Archive | Parenting

Tips For Adulthood: Teaching Life Skills To Teenagers


teenagersI think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that parenting teenagers can be challenging. The teenage brain is still evolving, teenagers are very stressed out and anxious, and they can be an absolute nightmare at the dinner table.

Above all, we know that teenagers are prone to take risks. (Warning: Don’t read this article if you don’t want to imagine all sorts of dangerous s$%t your teen might be getting up to right now…).

And so those of us trying to parent a teenager spend many of our waking hours wondering: how will they ever “graduate” to adulthood? Will they have the life skills they need to succeed as grown ups?

We vaguely know the sorts of things we’d like them to be able to do as responsible adults – which run the gamut from the more practical life skills (how to use an ATM machine, how to get the oil checked and – yes, you guessed it – how to change a lightbulb) to the more abstract life skills (executive function skills, moral integrity, emotional awareness).

If you’re like me, you’ll read through the lists in the links above and find yourself nodding your head vigorously.

But how, in a person who is biologically, emotionally and socially conditioned to resist our best efforts to impart these skills, do we get them there?

This week’s tip list brings a raft of suggestions for teaching life skills to teenagers. To wit:

a. Give Them Responsibility.  I was amazed, when reading this article in the Washington Post, at how much of the advice for teaching life skills to teens boils down to this: start giving them responsibility. (I know, I know, duh.) Whether it’s about giving your teenager a quarterly clothing budget (to practice managing money), bringing them along to the insurance agent when you add them to your automobile policy (to teach them about handling emergencies) or instructing them in those most basic of skills – how to address an envelope and how to write a check – the advice is that you need to get them going on these small things now.

b. Offer Them Things To Read – A close cousin of the “give them stuff to do” is “give them stuff to read.” Of course, not all kids will respond to a reading list, but some  (my own, for example) tend to respect advice more when it comes from an expert. I’m a huge fan of adolescent expert Nicola Morgan, whose website is chock full of resources – for parents, for teachers and also for kids themselves – about topics ranging from sleep to exams to stress. On the life skills end of things – since a common one that comes up is learning how to manage time – Nicola has a whole study skills guide for kids.

c. Play Games. If books aren’t your kids thing, try games and activities. This site lists “fun” life skills games for adolescents of different ages that gets them working on things from anger management to job hunting to healthy eating. (I want to play the Shhh! game!)

d. Outsource it. You don’t need to do it all by yourself, either. There are organizations that specialize in helping teens adjust to adulthood. I was recently at a food allergy clinic with my son and the doctor told us that once my son turns 16, he will join an adolescent clinic where the kids come to get their allergy testing themselves. Because kids with allergies face special risks when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs – (bottom line: you don’t want to eat the wrong thing when you’re high) – but also with food preparation and consumption, it’s important, the doctor said, that my son begin learning how to cook and shop for himself now. They’ll start him off with seven “safe” recipes he can make on his own. To which I said: Bring it on…

e. Go with the flow. Finally, if the idea of trying to turn your kid into a responsible adult before s/he is ready doesn’t float your boat, exhale deeply and just let go. There’s a lot to be said for letting teens be teens and enjoying this period of life for what it is – one of experimentation, fun and creativity – rather than trying to rush them through it. After all, we were teens once too.

How about you? What tactics have worked for you when teaching teenagers life skills and which ones do you think matter most?

Image: Teenagers at Play via


Suffragette: Why All Girls Should See This Film


Votes-for-Women_pin-2LONDON – In the full flurry of mid-life  –  between the job and the kids and the husband and the commute – I’m one of those people who rarely ventures out to the movies anymore. But I’ve got a recommendation for all you parents of tween and teenaged girls: take your daughters to see Suffragette.

This is not a brilliant film by any stretch. It’s got some fantastic actors – including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Marie Duff. But there are a few too many heart string moments in the life of one protagonist for my taste. And as someone whose predilections tend to run to films about the Holocaust, family dysfunction or – ideally – both, I tend to be very wary of anything that smacks of Inspiration (capital I).

But Suffragette still merits a viewing, and ideally on the big screen. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side


Image: Nawsa Suffrage Votes for Women via

Working Moms: Don’t Use Academic Research To Validate You

working mothers

working mothers

Like many out there, I was overjoyed to read the results of a recent study from Harvard University claiming that being a working mother  has tangible benefits to our kids. More specifically, the new research showed that working mothers are good role models for their daughters.

I was on my way to work when I read about the study and entered the office with an extra skip in my step. One of my colleagues, also a mother of two, called out to me before I even got to my desk. “Did you hear?” she said. “Work is actually good for our daughters!” She was positively beaming.

“Yup!” I replied triumphantly. “Already tweeted it!”

We high-fived each other across the cubicle, leaning in (to borrow a phrase) to the nine hour day that lay ahead, a tad less anxious than we’d been the day before and – in my own case – suddenly awash in confidence that missing my daughter’s cross country tournament the week before hadn’t permanently damaged her self-esteem. To the contrary, now she’d be even more confident and motivated because she had me as a model, holed up in an office miles away, toiling away on that final edit to the paper whose deadline took greater precedence over watching her run a race.

Continuing to ride that high, I immediately jumped on Facebook to contact a friend of mine who teaches family and child policy at a prominent American university and is up on all of this research. “Isn’t this great?” I wrote, linking to the study on her Wall. “Because didn’t most of the earlier studies say the opposite? And P.S., Yay!”

Actually,” she wrote back,”this body of research is so hard to interpret because so little of it is well-identified and there are so few plausibly causal estimates. Mostly people seem to conclude what they want from the existing literature. Thus, YAY! indeed for this latest study.


That’s the sound of the air coming out of my Guilt-Free-Mom balloon upon receiving her dispiriting reply.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Women in the Workforce via

Dear USA: It’s Time For A New Maternity Leave Policy

pregnantwomanIn the seemingly endless competition to see which country ranks “best” on a host of well-being indicators, here’s one race the United States will never win: its policy on maternity leave.

This point was driven home by the announcement last week by the telecommunications giant, Vodaphone, that the company will now guarantee a minimum of 16 weeks’ maternity leave for all new mothers. These women will also be able to work reduced hours (30 hour work weeks) at full pay for the first six months after they return to work. The kicker? This rule applies to all countries where Vodaphone operates, including those – like the United States, most African countries, and India – where statutory maternity leave policies are considerably lower.

Well, not to be a wet blanket, but here in the U.K., where I live, that headline wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. In accordance with U.K. law, women can take up to one year of maternity leave; 39 weeks of that leave is paid (the first 6 weeks at full salary and the next 33 at a percentage of income), with the remainder unpaid.

Read the rest of this post at The Broad Side


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Obama As Father Figure

As we careen towards the finish line in this tumultuous electoral season, President Obama is asking voters to renew his contract as a father figure. And with his new, 11th-hour message that this election is all about “trust,”I think the father-thing is going to resonate.

Without going all Carl Jung on you, presidential campaigns are often about archetypes. John McCain as warrior.  Paul Ryan as super-hero. Joe Biden as the loyal friend.

In 2008, with the whole “hope and change” narrative – not to mention his youthful good looks and energy – Obama was situated somewhere between Jesus Christ and Rock Star in our collective unconscious. But now look at him. After four sobering years of economic crisis and an Arab Spring that just won’t quit, that increasingly-visible graying of the hair above his ears is symbolic. The President has aged, matured, and  – like the rest of us parents – seems both wiser and wearier as a result.

It’s evident in the way that he speaks to us. As I’ve watch the presidential debates with my own kids, I’ve been struck by how parental he sounds. Particularly in the third and final debate, where the president could barely mask his disdain for Mitt Romney’s less-than-up-to-date grasp of our military, many pundits – including my colleague, Melinda Henneberger – saw his tone as patronizing, and wondered whether it wouldn’t alienate undecided women voters in particular.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog



Image: Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign by namakota das via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Using The Seven Up! Series To Teach Kids About Adulthood

As a parent, it’s sometimes difficult to know which of life’s hard knocks are appropriate for children to know about and when it’s time to introduce them.

I myself came under considerable criticism a few years back when I spoke to my then five year-old daughter about the Holocaust. And I’ve raised more than a few eyebrows (including two of my own) for letting my son read the entire Game of Thrones series when he was ten. (If you want a quick primer on sex, violence and everything short of videotape, do give those books a go…)

But one decision I have not regretted was encouraging our children – now 8 and 11 respectively – to watch the Seven Up! Series with me and my husband.

If you’ve never seen Seven Up!, drop whatever you’re doing right now and go rent it at the library/netflix/love film. You will not be disappointed. Seven Up! began as a documentary about childhood in the class-torn Britain of the 1960s, centered around the famous Jesuit aphorism: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man .” The Director, Michael Apted (an assistant on the first film), interviewed 14 seven year-olds from strikingly different backgrounds in England and traced their evolution, the hypothesis being that knowing them at seven would give us insight into the “man” (woman) in adulthood. He then went on to make a new film every seven years, the most recent installment  being 56 up!

Across the films you are privy to the remarkable dreams of childhood, the dashed hopes of adulthood, along with the inevitable personal crises, marital difficulties, and economic challenges that invariably accompany the process of growing up.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure, there are some pretty depressing stories in here – including one bright-eyed youngster who proudly announces that he’d like to grow up to become an astronaut but ends up homeless and mentally unstable. But there are also real rays of hope: kids who look like they’ll fall into drugs and crime but don’t, tough women who really enjoy their lives despite not having a lot of money, and poor little rich girls who look like they’re destined to remain lonely and miserable but somehow manage to pull it together and lead a happy family life.

My husband and I wanted our kids to see these films because as much as they shine a spot light on some of the gritty truths of adulthood, equally they teach kids that everything isn’t pre-determined at birth, that happiness isn’t just about having money, and perhaps most importantly of all, that life can be full of surprises-some awful and unfortunate, yes, but some exhilarating and inspiring.

Sure, I’d love to shield my kids from evil and sorrow. But they will confront them. And I want them to be ready.

How about you? What books/plays/music/films have you shown your kids that offered a glimpse into the realities of being a grown up?


Image: OB/FM 12 by Slinky789 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Guest Post on Cafe Mom’s The Stir

I’m so excited.

Today, I’m being featured over on Café Mom’s The Stir, in their month-long Mother’s Day tribute to bloggers they love.

I’ve long been a fan of The Stir, a great parenting blog that mixes serious parenting tips with a lot of humor.

They are featuring a post I wrote on RealDelia a couple of years back, about how we talk to our kids about evil in the world.

Here’s the beginning of the post. Please be sure to head on over to The Stir to read the rest.





My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”

“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.

“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

Read the rest of this post at The Stir


Image: Like it or hate it, or maybe it’s ok by emotionaltoothpaste via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

The Mommy Wars Inside My Head

It’s been exactly two weeks since the dreaded “Mommy Wars” re-exploded into our collective lexicon. Since then — courtesy of figures as disparate as First Lady-hopeful Ann Romney and French feminist Elisabeth Badinter— we’ve been pitting stay-at-home-moms against working moms in an inexorable, intractable struggle.

I’m completely on board with all those who think that this faux cat-fight sets up a false dichotomy within the female voting block that’s neither productive nor accurate. As far as I’m concerned, the real wars aren’t the ones that go on between women, they’re the ones that go on within women.

And I’m exhibit A.


Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: Dressy Bessy, the long view by massdistraction via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Tyler Clementi Tragedy: Lessons For Parents

Dharun Ravi – the 20 year-old who was convicted last week for spying on his former Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, with a webcam – has finally spoken to the press. And as a parent, I feel more conflicted about this case than ever.

This was never a straightforward case from the get-go. As Ian Parker’s remarkably detailed article in The New Yorker pointed out, there was no question that Ravi used his webcam to spy on Clementi while the latter was engaged in a sexual encounter with a man in their shared room at Rutgers. And there was also no question that Ravi had invited others to join in on a (failed) second viewing of another, similar encounter and then destroyed electronic evidence ex post.

What was never fully established was how much this incident drove Clementi to kill himself by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge the next day (as opposed to pre-existing mental health issues). Nor was it clear whether homophobia was what drew Ravi to invade his roommate’s privacy in the first place.

Like many, I was fascinated by this story from its inception. For starters, Clementi attended my public high school in suburban New Jersey – Ridgewood High – where many of my childhood friends now send their kids. So I always felt a personal connection to the case.

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog


Image: 1 in 3 Teens by Tayrawr Fortune via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Parenting Strategies That Work

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Shortly after my son was born 11 years ago, a friend of mine – the father of three much older kids – asked me how I was doing. At that point, I think we’d moved safely into that phase where I was no longer feeding my son every three seconds, he’d begun smiling at us, and my husband and I had more or less adjusted to this massive change in our lives.

“It’s such a great age,” I commented.

“They all are,” he replied.

It’s true, they *are* all great ages and I’m continually mystified by how exciting and interesting each phase of parenting is (even when I’m going through them for the second time with my daughter.)

But it’s also an ongoing challenge to parent and one always feels a bit behind the eight ball as you try desperately to figure out how best to react (or, indeed, whether to react at all) to our children’s behavior and emerging personalities.

To that end, this week I thought I’d share some new (but really) old parenting strategies that seem to prove their value again and again:

1.Incentives are better than punishments. When your kids misbehave – and particularly when they do the same annoying thing repeatedly – there’s a temptation to take something away from them: no television for a week, no play dates, no dessert. But rewards for good behavior are also much more effective than punishments for bad behavior, especially for younger children. In my own case, my daughter takes an inordinate amount of time to get dressed in the morning, producing frequent (and repetitive) conflicts. While my first instinct was to take away her computer time, I opted this week to try something new: if she can get dressed, brush hair and brush teeth each morning (and the reverse each evening) in under ten minutes, I’ll give her 50p a day. At the end of two weeks, if she does this consistently, she can buy a present for herself. (Bear in mind that she doesn’t have allowance right now.) I explained to her that we wouldn’t carry on buying gifts on a regular basis, but I’m hoping that by heaping praise on her in the next two weeks while we do this trial period, she’ll internalize the positive reinforcement and want to get dressed/undressed quickly, rather than only working for the extrinsic reward. So  far, so good.

2. Hitting doesn’t work. If you think that doesn’t bear repeating, think again. Here in the U.K. where I live, a Labour politician – who was, I kid you not, the former Education Minister – recently declared that if working class parents had more freedom to hit their children, we wouldn’t have had the riots that broke out here last summer. No sh$!. In a poll taken not so long ago, nearly one half of British parents surveyed said that they thought that teachers should be allowed to hit children to keep them in line. This, despite mounds of evidence showing that while spanking is very effective in the short run for altering a child’s behavior, in the long run it is completely counter-productive.

3. Understand where your kids are at, developmentally. Like many parents, I was absolutely fascinated by a recent article by Alison Gopnik  in The Wall Street Journal about the teenage mind. The upshot of the article is that teenagers are hitting puberty – and all the attendant hormonal, risk-taking changes in attitude this phase of life produces – much earlier than ever before, while becoming “adults” (in the sense of assuming responsibility for their own lives) ever later. The result is that their emotional development is out of sync  with their ability to exert judgment and self-control  in a way that it wasn’t even 20 years ago. Once I read this, I thought, Eureka! So that’s why my 11 year-old loves listening to Rap music but can’t be bothered to cut with a knife and fork properly.

4. Don’t micro-manage. I attended my son’s parent-teacher meetings earlier this week and was told by several of his teachers, independently, that they felt that while he had come into the school year a bit jumpy and unsettled, over the course of the year he had really calmed down. As a fellow manic, I can’t really criticize him too much on this score – the apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree. But I couldn’t help but wonder if my own New Year’s resolution to chill out and try to control him less wasn’t helping, in part, to chill him out in other parts of his life. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m going to press on with this resolution – despite temptations to “fall off the wagon” – and see if I keep observing positive change.

5. Keep reading  books by Faber and Mazlish. Believe it or not I do think that you can over-train yourself in the art of parenting. Some of it has to be instinctual – and based, crucially, on your particular child’s nature – or you’ll drive yourself insane. But I will put in a plug for two books by parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish that I will stand by: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, as well as their companion volume, Siblings Without Rivalry. I remember parenting blogger Lisa Belkin saying that for many years, she and her husband kept dog-eared copies of these books by their respective bedsides. Ditto.

What tried and true parenting strategies work for you?


If you’re interested in hearing my views on why we should all – including Marco Rubio – be reading Fidel Castro’s new memoirs, head on over to The Washington Post’s She The People blog.

Image: Little Johnnie Totally Deserved It by feminaerecta via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.