Banned Books Week 2015: It’s Perfectly Normal

Posted by on Oct 1, 2015 in Education & Learning, Growing Up, Health & Sleep | 7 comments

BBW-logoWelcome to Banned Books Week 2015! I love Banned Books Week, and not just for the obvious reason that it’s about books. This annual celebration is actually less about books than it’s about freedom of thought, of exploration, and of the opportunity for each person to decide for herself what’s appropriate for her family.

(Look below for an opportunity to enter a Banned Books Week giveaway as part of our annual celebration with Book Journey!)

You don’t want your kid to read something? Okay. I suppose that’s your decision. But don’t tell me my kid can’t read the same book. That’s not your decision. It’s mine, or, more likely, it’s my kid’s. If you don’t believe a particular book that the teacher has selected as part of the curriculum is appropriate or you personally think it has “no educational value,” you are absolutely free to raise an objection. Feel free to discuss it with the teacher. But why should you get to say that none of the kids in a class or a public school get to learn from the book just because you don’t like it?

Each year, I peruse the list of the previous year’s top ten list of banned books and pick one to read and review for Banned Books Week. This year, I knew as soon as I saw the list which book I would read: It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.

You undoubtedly could anticipate the reason for the challenges to this book before you finished reading its title. Despite its universal application, the book delves into an area of adolescence that makes some adults uncomfortable—even squeamish. Some find it immoral. So let’s look at the book’s approach to the subject.

It’s Perfectly Normal is divided into an introduction followed by six sections: “What is Sex?”; “Our Bodies”; “Puberty”; “Families and Babies”; “Decisions”; and “Staying Healthy.” Together, the material covers everything from the basics of how a baby is made to gender identity to puberty to deciding to have sex to staying safe on the internet to making healthy choices when sexually active. That’s a lot of ground for about 100 pages. Cartoonish drawings of a genderless bee and bird take opposing viewpoints of the material as they accompany the adolescent reader through the pages, with the bird feeling confident about its changing body and feelings, and the bee tapping into a tween or teen’s uneasy side.

There’s much that’s good about this book.

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Transition…to Someone Else’s Wise Words About Raising Teens

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Growing Up, Parenting on a Daily Basis, Tips, Recommendations & Warnings | 0 comments

So, how’s that back-to-school thing going?

We’ve had a few bumps here, but what can you expect when transitioning from beachy days, late nights and a slow summer pace to notebooks, schedule conflicts, looming homework, etc.?

With two kids in middle school (how the heck did that happen?), our entire family is in transition. I can’t count how many times I’ve begun to say, “my young kids,” or “my little girl,” then caught myself and dropped the reference to the little kids I no longer have. I see the elementary school bus roll by our house in the morning, and it doesn’t stop. (On purpose this time, as opposed to the numerous times in the past when the driver simply forgot.) Nobody here rides it. It’s a new stage of life for our family, and adjustments are required.

I love my kids at thirteen and ten. But though I no longer panic about parenting like I did when they were infants, I still puzzle over certain, more nuanced questions regarding what I’m supposed to do with these growing people. Offer advice on the problem I see coming, or let things play out on their own? Scold and correct on a particular misbehavior, or decide it’s not a big deal and let it go so that my words have more effect when something more important comes along? Give something that’s been requested, or make them work for it? Help or butt out? Yes, there are guidelines that can help—I wrote about a few of them a couple of weeks ago—but it’s still a challenge every day.

That’s why I want to share with you some wise words I found elsewhere on the web, at Club Mid at Scary Mommy. “How to Ruin Your Relationship with Your Teenager,” written by Michelle Lehnardt, offers some valuable wisdom for any parent looking for guidance and goalposts on raising a teen. I emailed it to myself, printed it out and placed it next to my desk as a reference, and I want to make sure you see it, too. For example, here is point 1:

1. Not Listening

Years ago, I heard invaluable advice: “Once your child reaches the age of 13 or 14 they know your opinion of everything under the sun. Your job from now on is to shut up and listen.” I remember feeling a bit defensive the first time I heard this counsel. I had so much knowledge yet to share! And besides, things change—how would I offer my wisdom on future problems? But there’s the crux of it all. Things change. As adults, we think we know all about the teenage world, but our swiftly moving planet has spun beyond our intimate knowledge of the ’70s’80s’90s. And here’s what I’ve learned: when you take the time to listen, truly listen, your kids will ask your opinion.

To read the rest of this article by Michelle Lehnardt, click here to go to Club Mid at Scary Mommy.


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Parenting an Adolescent: 3 Guidelines for When to Step In & When to Step Back

Posted by on Sep 2, 2015 in Growing Up, Health & Sleep, Tips, Recommendations & Warnings | 0 comments

The adolescent years are a period when parents gradually hand their children’s lives over to them. As the parent of a soon-to-be adult, it’s often difficult to know when to intervene or when to let your adolescent take control over a particular part of his or her life. How do you decide when to step back and when to step in?

There are no easy answers. But a few guidelines can help:

Safety: Do you believe your child is in an unsafe situation—something that may endanger his or her life or physical or mental health? Do you have real reason to believe your child is using drugs, has been drinking, has been riding in a car with a friend who has been drinking, is planning to go to a house where a party is planned and kids who you know engage in inappropriate activities will be present, etc.? Do you suspect that your child is depressed, or that he or she may have an eating disorder? In situations where your child’s safety may be in jeopardy, always step in. This is where the limited teenage appreciation for real-life, long-term consequences could genuinely hurt your child.

Self-expression: Does your child wants to style his or her hair in an electric-blue Mohawk? Or maybe he or she wants to wear t-shirts with political messages you abhor? Step back. Your child is figuring out who he or she is and these are not permanent changes. Let your teen explore. Make sure your teen knows that even if you don’t like a particular thing he or she is doing, you are still supportive of him or her as a person. However, permanent changes and measures of self-expression that violate rules, such as a t-shirt with language that is banned in school, can be more difficult. These warrant conversations with your child.

My piece on figuring out when to step in and when to step back in your adolescents’ lives continues at Stop Medicine Abuse. Use these guidelines until you find a magic 8-ball that indicates the right thing to do when your kid asks to be dropped off before you’re in sight of the school one minute, demands to know what you’re going to do about her forgotten homework the next, then slams a door in frustration because she claims you always treat her like a little kid. And when you do find that sought-after object, let me know.

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“True Confessions of a Stalker Mom”

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 in Growing Up, Other Parenting Stuff I've Written, Parents are People, Too | 0 comments



Who, me?

Well, yes. And I’m the last person I would have expected to turn into such a thing.

“I am not a helicopter parent, but when my son went away to camp, it took less than 24 hours for me to become his stalker.” You can read the rest at Cognescenti, WBUR’s ideas and opinions page.

Fellow parents, watch out; for all you know, there’s a hidden stalker lurking somewhere inside you, too.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 in Growing Up | 4 comments

Quiet time

It’s quiet around here.

Every family has a personality, a living, changeable thing made up not only of its members, but also of the dynamic produced by the interaction of those members when they’re together. Even the pets contribute. Subtract one of those family members, and the personality changes. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but it’s definitely different.

The older of my two children has been away for two-and-a-half weeks now, and it feels like we live in a different house.

Many of the details fall into the mundane category: my laundry loads have diminished significantly. Our consumption of pizza and pasta has dropped by probably eighty percent. So has our rate of milk usage. ESPN is hardly on the television anymore, I’m not engaged in battles over screen time, I’m not enduring anyone’s sweaty, smelly sports gear or arguing about showers.

More significant details mark this time, too: arguing and whining in the house overall has plummeted. My younger child has thrived on the undivided attention she’s received; her behavior has improved, and we’ve explored new intellectual, culinary and mother-daughter bonding territory. Life isn’t as complicated when the needs and desires of one less person have to be taken into account, and after the frenzy that was the school year, this break has been welcome.


It’s so damn quiet.

I don’t mean to say the three of us—plus the pets—haven’t had any fun. We absolutely have. But our son took a substantial chunk of our family silliness to camp with him. The giggling has decreased, the constant sarcasm with which we perpetually amuse each other (although perhaps not others outside the family?) is lacking a certain luster, the truly raucous moments seem to be far fewer than usual. I find I actually miss the frequent challenges to my knowledge and reasoning—well, maybe some of them. And while it’s restful to take a break from constant attempts to decode the heart and brain of a male adolescent, that daily activity is part of what makes up this family.

Before you accuse me of being overly dramatic—which, let’s be honest, you were thinking since the second paragraph—I will freely admit to that characterization. But then I will walk that back a little,

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Things I Want My Son to Remember as He Leaves Home for the First Time

Posted by on Jun 25, 2015 in Growing Up | 0 comments


This weekend, my son will leave for sleep-away camp. He won’t return for three weeks. It’s the first time he’ll be away from us for more than a night—the first time that, despite the supervision of camp counselors and resident advisors, he’ll largely be responsible for himself.

How will he act out there in “the world?” I think about all the things I want my son to remember, and I come up with, “everything I’ve ever told you.” That’s not particularly helpful. So I drew up a more specific list of some of the things I hope thirteen-year-old “Jack” will keep in mind when I’m not there to pester remind him:

*Have fun. You didn’t expect this to be first, did you? But I want you to know how much value I place on this. You’ll be doing new things in a new place with new people in an atmosphere that’s new for you. I envy you in a way you won’t understand for years. Have a really, really good time.

*Be kind. Be someone who will talk to someone who feels left out, who would never mock someone in a cruel way, who offers to help others when it appears help may be required. If someone is being cruel, at least say, “Come on, guys,” or “That’s not funny.” Be the good guy.

*Eat something besides pizza and pasta. Chocolate chip cookies don’t count.

*Try new things. You have activities planned in your areas of interest, and that’s great. But you’re going to a camp that offers a stupendous roster of choices; pick an activity or two you’ve never done before—maybe one you’ve never even thought about. You might end up with a passion you’ve never imagined.

*The few times we talk on the phone, please say something besides, “Good.”

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