Tag Archives: teens

Baby Birds and a Nest Becoming More and More Empty

Last week, my sister found a bird’s nest in one of her potted herb plants.  And in that nest were some eggs which then hatched.  She found it entertaining to keep track of the 5 bald, hideous, scraggly hatchlings.  One day, she went out to water the plant and found that some had jumped (fallen?) out of the nest and into the pot.  Were they learning to fly?  Another day went by, and she discovered that several of the birds were gone.

The empty nest is a rather over-used metaphor.  And I don’t actually have an empty nest, but a vacancy in my nest is just around the corner.  In about 6 weeks, SuzyQ will depart for college.  We have begun accumulating stuff for her to outfit her dorm room.  My guest room, now the staging area, is out of commission until she leaves.  Having spent 4 years living in dorms, I feel that I have a reasonable idea of what she needs.  Still, there is a sense of panic about forgetting those odds and ends one takes for granted at home.  Headache medicine, sunscreen, Ziploc bags, clean towels.  She is not attending school in a desolate frozen tundra miles from any trading outpost, I know.  But minimizing runs to big-box stores will help her stay within budget.  Yes, I am an naive optimistic parent!

I had mixed dorm experiences.  None of my roommates became my best friends, although mostly we stayed friendly.  Learning to live that closely with someone I wasn’t related to wasn’t easy, even after sharing a room with siblings almost my whole life.  SuzyQ has never had to share a room (except for summer camp experiences), so I fear she will have a prickly adjustment period.  Of course, with all of the Facebook chatter and texts flying back and forth right now, perhaps she and her intended roommate will ease some of that tension before they arrive on campus.  That’s one benefit of social media, anyway.

The other baby bird just got his driver’s learner permit.  In my state, teens 15 and 6 months can begin supervised driving.  Thankfully, Junior is showing an appropriate amount of fear behind the wheel.  Confidence will come, too, with practice, but I also believe in a healthy fear.  Especially when he’s driving my car.  It will be at least 9 months before he’s eligible to get his license and drive solo.  Thank goodness.  That’s a lot for a mom to take all at once: one college freshman and one new driver.

I can’t help wondering how some of my friends from school who are just having a second or third child will cope with such things in 15 or more years–at the age of almost 60.  If they asked me, I would advise them to spend the intervening years taking good care of themselves and learning how to manage stress.  Then they might be better prepared, at 60, to haul their daughter’s belongings up 4 flights of stairs in the quaint dorm without an elevator.  And perhaps coaching their teen boy to finesse the brake pedal, ease around corners, and negotiate city traffic will come easily.

Today, my nest is bustling with all kinds of activity.  In a few weeks, it will seem a little more bare.  The metaphor has to end there because, in reality, my sister’s birds didn’t just leave their nest.  All evidence points to a slaughter.  The call of the wild and all that.  Cruel, cruel world.


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Whatever Happened to Shop Class? Alternate Title: How Darling Husband Gets a New Blogname

Did you take Shop?  Is it offered to kids in your school district today?  Most likely, the answer is no.  You know the drill today: No Child Left Behind, everyone goes to college.  Apparently shop class, which was for those with no chance of getting into or desire to attend college, is no longer necessary since college is for everyone now.  More’s the pity, though, because things still need to be fixed.  Namely, my car.

I drive a performance SUV.  I love that vehicle, and I have babied it as far as maintenance is concerned.  (Can’t say the same for the leather upholstery or carpet.)  Now, though, it’s quickly approaching 100,000 miles on the odometer.  Routine maintenance is more important than ever to keep it running like the quasi-luxury vehicle it was designed to be…just not at dealership service department prices.  An oil change is an oil change, right?  It doesn’t take someone certified in European auto craft to do it.  What I learned after taking it to Average Joe all-purpose auto service is that lots of mechanics either don’t know a phillips from a flathead, and/or they are all out to bleed your wallet dry.  Mechanics like to throw panic-laden phrases at you:

“You really need to have those brakes done NOW, before you get into a crash!!”

“That serpentine belt is really worn and cracked.  It could go at any moment!!”

And they will take care of those urgent items for you, out of concern for your safety, at the low, low price of…basically a mortgage payment or the cost of a new refrigerator or a set of braces.

Enter Darling Husband, who just happens to be the handiest guy I know.  He’s so tired of paying someone $5 to top off wiper fluid and $130 to change the oil, that he flips his lid and starts ordering brake pads and rotors online.  Then he informs Junior that he will be learning some new life skills come the weekend, so find some work clothes.  And that’s how my garage turns into Shop Class.

I’ve mentioned previously that Junior likes to be involved in projects.  He’s generally happier when he’s tinkering with his fishing poles or designing some new tricked out seating for the boat than he is just hanging around watching TV.  Good thing for him because this car thing had the makings of the mother of all projects.  Front and rear brakes and rotors…in my garage…with simple hand tools.  Even better, though, it meant father and son, working side by side for hours (upon hours!), getting their hands dirty.  And when it was all over, I got new brakes at a fraction of the cost Average Joe mechanic quoted, and Junior had become more handy himself.  He can now talk casually about calipers, torque, and other manly terminology.  He’s my go-to guy if I get a flat tire while we’re out and about, rather than waiting 2 hours for roadside assistance.

So, the morals of the story: If you are not willing to get your own hands dirty, SuzyQ, marry a man who is handy.  Yes, Junior, you still have to go to college.  Darling Husband, you’re my hero.  Your skills saved us a lot of $$$, and you gave Junior some valuable gifts, including practical, real-world knowledge most kids will never get and confidence in his ability to solve real-world problems.  So I’m presenting you with a new blog name…Cap’n Handy.  You hate it, don’t you?  Well, let’s stick with it for a while and break it in.

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Are Teens Barbarians?

Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Huns, flash mob.  Someone tell me I’m not the only one that gets a little nervous when a large group of teenagers approaches.  Certainly not ALL teens are dangerous, criminal, or scary.  But it seems that a whole lot of them are.  Statistics will show you that youth are no more violent today than they were 20-30 years ago.  (Check here.)  But we are certainly hearing a lot about violent teens in the news, maybe because the news networks have 24 hours a day to fill. 

So here I am feeling old and wondering what is to become of the nation when America’s teens grow up.  We have “flash mobs” appearing in cities around the country, wreaking havoc.  Apparently, these started around 2003 as a way to grab attention for a performance meant to be entertaining or sartorial.  Participants spread the word via social media about time and place.  These days, a flash mob is just as likely to be a group of teenage delinquents who suddenly descend upon a public place to vandalize, shoplift, or intimidate.  It has happened in Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Washington, DC.  Typically, a handful of kids will be arrested and charged.  For the rest, it’s an adrenaline rush to avoid the cops and be ready for the next time.

I have trouble following the kids’ logic.  First, you get a text or see the plan posted on Facebook to head to the mall “cause everyone’s gonna be there.”  Nothing wrong there.  It’s just hanging out at the mall.  But don’t they get even a little suspicious when they see 200 or so kids assembled?  When the looting and shoving starts, don’t they get even the slightest pangs of conscience telling them that this can’t possibly end well? 

Then I read a story about kids with criminal records playing football on the top 25 college teams.  According to the investigation done by Sports Illustrated and CBS news, about 7% of the football players on those teams had records of offenses ranging from drug and alcohol-related crimes to theft, burglary, sex crimes, domestic violence, and assault.  The figures released in the investigation don’t even include any juvenile offenses due to confidentiality of those records.  Huh.  It never occurred to the admissions boards at these schools to inquire about criminal history before offering a free-ride athletic scholarship??  The Common Application, used by over 400 colleges and universities, requires applicants to indicate whether they have been “found responsible for a disciplinary violation” at school beginning in 9th grade that resulted in even probation or suspension along with expulsion.  It also includes a question about being “adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime.”  So how did these athletes get a free pass??  Even more troubling, did their high school coaches clam up about players’ criminal history with a wink and a nod?  How is it that the adults in the decision chain don’t think a criminal history should raise any eyebrows? 

What do we adults expect from teens?  I recently watched the Valentine’s Day episode of Glee (formerly a favorite show, but a huge disappointment this season), which featured yet another girl-on-girl fight.  Yeah, that’s entertainment fit for teens.  So is the daily tabloid TV report on celebrity dust-ups on Twitter.  Not exactly the behavior we want teens to model.   I wonder, too, where teens get their colorful vocabulary.  Do most parents give up on watching their own language around their kids when they turn a certain age, say, 10 or 12?  It’s pretty obvious that most parents have allowed teens to self-police their music, TV and movie viewing, and leisure activities (“Just call me when you need a ride, and have fun!!”) with predictable results.

I am sure there are a lot of great kids out there.  But I am afraid there are a lot of kids out there who think they are better human beings than they really are.  I blogged about it here.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the mob mentality or cyber-bullying or the allure of criminal activity.  And very few in authority in these kids’ lives– parents, school administrators, guidance counsellors, coaches–have the guts to stand up and say that what a lot of teens need is some tough love.  It’s a whole lot easier to go the psychologically challenged route or the economically disadvantaged route or use some other analyze-their-motives mumbo-jumbo instead of just saying, “The kid’s a bad apple who needs to feel some wrath and have his mouth washed out with soap.”

So, what happens when flash mob-ers grow up?  Do they contribute to the economy or the democratic process?  In the immortal words of the maitre-d’ in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “I weep for the future.”

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The Newest Ride in Fantasyland: High School

It’s a New Year, and the Christmas break is over.  Time to hit the books with a vengeance.  The problem is that SuzyQ and I are at loggerheads about what a full course-load should be and what the schedule of a junior in high school should look like.  Apparently, we have very different notions about what should be expected of a high-achieving high school student.  Whom do I blame for this dispute?  Disney and Nickelodeon.  I knew I should have pulled the plug on cable TV long ago, before SuzyQ became interested in “Hannah Montana,” “I Carly,” and other sitcoms that depict the lives of so-called “normal” teenagers.  She may be too old for them now, but those shows have already done their damage.

Once kids start watching TV programs about high school kids, their sense of what is normal becomes skewed.  These shows, and others like them, follow teen characters throughout their typical days, which are filled with free time.  Hannah Montana, international rock star, has time to hang out at the beach with her friends and never has homework.  In “I Carly,”  the main character attends school, but spends most of her time chatting with friends there; and if she has homework, it doesn’t keep her from starring in her self-produced internet program.  Can you think of any TV shows that depict hard-working students?  Certainly, this is nothing new.  None of the characters on “The Brady Bunch,” “Family Ties,” or “The Cosby Show” sacrificed a social life for their schoolwork.  Somehow, the kids in the world of TV shows are able to play sports, hold down jobs, and preside over school newspapers or Glee Clubs or Matheletes and still have time to hang out at the mall or spend hours on the phone.

So naturally, SuzyQ feels that she is the only tortured high school soul on earth who has no free time.  Her logic is that, especially since she’s homeschooled, she should have waaay more time to read, hang out with friends, learn to cook, or do crafts.  Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that she has never enjoyed crafts or expressed an interest in cooking.  She may be doing her correspondence school work at home, but she’s taking 6 classes, including a few AP courses, physics, and pre-calculus.  No matter how you slice it, those classes come with hours of work: problems to work, novels to read, and essays to write.  Add to that her extracurriculars–chorus, karate, youth group, and music lessons–and you run out of hours in the day. They even bleed into the weekends.  Oh, and don’t forget the SAT prep and driving school.

Back in the dark ages when I was her age, I spent my junior and senior years of high school meeting myself coming and going.  I never took AP classes, but I still had plenty of homework.  After school, I had chorus or newspaper or honor society.  I had church choir rehearsals some evenings.  Then there were chores to do.  I’ve tried to explain all of this to SuzyQ.  I’ve told her that my friends were just as busy as I was, so we didn’t really “hang out” except in homeroom or waiting for the bus or during one of our shared extracurriculars.  Lunch periods were usually spent finishing up homework or studying for the test next period.  We talked on the phone, but a lot of that was about the calculus or physics problems that we couldn’t figure out.

I’m fairly certain SuzyQ’s non-homeschooled friends are just as swamped as she is.  Yes, they get a change of scenery by leaving home to sit in classrooms every day.  And they squeeze in a football game or a dance every now and then.  But they are definitely not killing time at the mall every weekend or watching hours of TV.

No, it’s not her fault that she has to compete with some of the largest numbers of students ever applying to colleges.  And she’s not responsible for the Great Recession, which means that scholarship money will be scarcer than ever.  Yet the fantasy of what the high school years are “supposed” to be like continues.

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Fashion Police Again…Mom Weighs In

This weekend I took SuzyQ shopping for some fall clothes.  She is 16, and we have never really had battles over what clothes are considered appropriate.  We simply have a 2-way veto policy:  I can veto anything she picks out, and she can veto my selections.  So far, so good.   Nevertheless, shopping for clothes in the Juniors department is torture.

Take jeans, for example.  The average zipper length on jeans for teenage girls must be about 3 inches.  How do girls sit in them?  And I don’t even want to discuss what underwear is appropriate for something “ultra low-rise.”   Who knew that “low-rise” was just the beginning of the torment?  This fall, the hot trend is the “jegging”: leggings made out of denim.  Essentially, they’re tights.  Back in the 80’s (my high school and college era), we wore leggings under giant sweatshirts that came almost to our knees.  Today’s teens see nothing amiss about wearing these “jeggings” just like they would any other pants: with just a t-shirt.

Image from Macy's

Doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination, does it?  Just because there’s no skin showing doesn’t make it any less objectionable.  The rule at our house is that skinny jeans or leggings automatically get paired with a top that covers the butt.  No exceptions.

Take another look at the picture, and you might notice the shoes.  Am I the only one who is reminded of a street walker?   I can’t think of any occasion that would call for a teenage girl to wear 4-inch platform stilettos.

Every generation has its questionable fashions.  I get that.  What I don’t get is how any girl in her right mind could imagine that clothes like these would produce anything but slutty looks and remarks.  If clothes are the way teens express themselves, what is a girl in this outfit trying to say?  And what kind of parent lets her daughter parade around dressed like this?  Not an uncommon one, that’s for sure.

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What’s Wrong with Being Bored?

My son is bored.  That’s probably not an uncommon complaint come mid-summer for a 13-year-old.  The novelty of sleeping in has worn off along with the thrill of (nearly) unlimited TV availability.

You see, my son is a “doer.”  He’s at his happiest participating in some physical activity: for instance, golf, swimming, or his latest new love, fishing.  He will spend hours doing online research about the fish native to our area and then head to the local pond to try his luck.  He practices his chipping and putting in my backyard.  He’ll ride his bike, practice backyard archery, and craft things out of invasive bamboo.

The problem is that most of his favorite things are best done with someone else.  However, your typical 13-year-old boy isn’t exactly known for his get up and go.  There are at least 3 other kids my son’s age in our neighborhood, but he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with them anymore.  Why not?  “All they ever want to do is mess around with their iPod Touch or Play Station.”

So columnist Barbara Kay got my attention when she wrote “In Praise of Boredom.”  She argues that technology along with playdates and structured activities have wiped out childhood boredom.  Why is this a bad thing?  Kay recalls that bored kids used to read back in the “old days,” even if they were only reading comic books.  I would go further and propose that boredom could lead to creativity and innovation, too.  A bored child builds a play house out of empty boxes, writes and puts on a play, goes on a treasure hunt, or teaches himself everything there is to know about something–like fishing.

I’m not anti-technology.  In fact, I think I will ask for an iPhone for my birthday.  But I see too many children (and, yes, teens are children) chained to it, missing out on everything else the world has to offer, including human contact.  Streaming music and video, gaming–these are all using someone else’s creativity.  They don’t require imagination or a desire for learning.

So in case you are reading, my son, I’m not too troubled by your boredom.  I just wish you could get a few friends to be bored with you.

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Why We Homeschool…A Continuing Series

This is the first of many posts to come about why we have chosen to homeschool our 2 kids, even through high school.  This  story from the New York Times about multiple valedictorians caught my eye.  It seems that high school principals are concerned about too much competition among students for the top-ranked spot.  Rather than simply doing the math and awarding the honor to the student with the highest GPA, school officials in many districts call all students with straight A’s valedictorians, no matter if they took Honors courses, AP courses, or just the basics.  Here’s a quote from one school principal: “When did we start saying that we should limit the honors so only one person gets the glory?”

Of course, this is nothing new.  I’ve encountered this same sort of thinking from my kids’ earliest school years, before we made the leap into homeschooling.  I can recall the science fairs which were not judged, so every entry received the same blue ribbon.   My son has a shelf full of dusty baseball trophies, no matter that his team never came in first place.  I’ve attended end-of-the-year award ceremonies in which every child in the class received an award of some kind.

When everyone gets the award or honor, it ceases to be an honor at all or becomes an “honor inflation,” as Chris Healy, an associate professor at Furman University, puts it.  The title Valedictorian has no meaning if it’s given to more than just the number 1 ranked student, just like all of those certificates and dusty trophies given for participation have no meaning.  What will happen to all of these children who have been treated like hot-house flowers when they leave school?  Will they cry foul when a colleague receives a merit-based raise or bonus while they don’t?

So we choose not to participate in the American educational establishment.  I think we can do a better job at preparing our kids for the real world at home.

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