3 Step Response to the Teenage Distress Text

Back in the day (as a 70s-era student), when something happened at school – my feelings were hurt, I’d aced a test I’d been nervous about or I wanted permission to go to a movie with a friend – I had to wait until I got home and saw my parents to talk / boast / ask permission, as the case required. Or what about when I was homesick at summer camp? By the time my parents received my snail-mailed letter bemoaning my fate, my sadness was long gone and I was cavorting with my campmates.

These days, texting places a direct line to parents in the palm of virtually every kid’s hand. And many parents have unwittingly made the mistake of buying into the cultural (and child-driven) expectation that communication should therefore be instantaneous and immediate.

 Not so fast.

It’s important to recreate the distance between the onset of a child’s every problem or negative emotion and our instinctive and understandable drive to fix it. Let’s face it: our children aren’t in dire jeopardy when their feelings get hurt or if they’re disappointed in their performance on an exam or on the soccer field. So how can we, as parents, best help our kids?

If your endgame is to help your children learn to navigate unpleasant experiences and feelings, don’t miss this all-too-frequent opportunity to help them develop resilience and agency using this 3-step approach:

1.    Acknowledge but don’t engage

2.    Empathize rather than escalate

3.    Encourage insights that leads to self-efficacy

Acknowledge but don’t engage. Some modern parenting approaches make parents feel that to prove their devotion (and fitness), their job is to be their child’s ally at every turn. But when we react to a child’s text by immediately soliciting more details or instinctively siding with their point of view, we not only shortchange what should be a face-to-face encounter, we run the risk of escalating their emotions or anxieties.

By all means, if your children text to tell you the teacher hurt his feelings or her best friend snubbed her, acknowledge the situation with a short response that promises more conversation later. It’s important to ensure your child feels heard and can count on your support, but not wise to engage in an emotionally charged text dialogue.

Plus, when we give the situation time to simmer in the child’s mind, they just might come up with a solution themselves.

Empathize rather than escalate.

To a child (of almost any age), a small slight can sometimes feel like the sky is falling. It’s an age-appropriate response. But as parents, we should not match their hysteria or emotional temperature. Our job is to acknowledge our children’s pain and give them something their minds aren’t yet capable of delivering: perspective.

By over-identifying with our kids’ emotions or probing for hidden motives by their friends / teachers / coaches, we keep children stuck in the problem. Empathize and be supportive, but ask the types of questions that help them see the bigger picture. Simple phrases such as “Tell me more” and “Why do you think that happened?” gives kids the opportunity to unpack the experience so you can help them identify the salient issues and their role.

Encourage insight that leads to self-efficacy. It’s easy to point the finger and make others responsible for our feelings. It’s typical for children to blame others and feel victimized. But psychologists note that each time a parent swoops in to fix a problem or mend a relationship for their children, they push them one more step away from self-knowledge and self-efficacy.

As a parent with perspective, your role is to help your child identify how they may have contributed to the problem and the steps they can take to amend it. For example, ask questions that probe their part in the drama. See if this is a situation that has occurred before. With that information in hand, the two of you can brainstorm about what is in the child’s control. How can they be empowered to amend the situation by changing their own behavior?

This is also a great time to model how you’ve reacted to a problem at work or with a friend. Knowing that Mom and Dad also deal with challenging relationships and negative emotions – and lived to talk about it – gives children the courage to give growing up a try and figure out the solution themselves.

In the end, we want to build resilient capable kids who will remember to text every once in a while after they have left home because they want to say hello, not because they have a crisis for us to solve.

Smartphones Can Contribute to 'Dumb' Parenting

According to a body of research increasingly robust in in the last 5 years, it appears a collective parental wake-up call is in order. Although researchers are still studying the effect of screen time on children, they’re now turning their trained eyes on us to see how our tech habits impact our parenting and our children. While no researcher is claiming causation between parental smartphone use and poor child outcomes, there is enough correlational evidence for parents to take notice.

·      Frequent social media use is one of the risk factors for “higher levels of maternal depression

·      According to the Center for the Digital Future, people report feeling “increasingly ignored by others in their own family households because of smartphone use”

·      A 2015 study of caregivers and kids on playgrounds demonstrated that children have a harder time getting the attention of parents distracted by smartphone use

·      Even teenagers – who you’d think would be delighted by distracted parents – reported “less parental warmth” and 11% said they “struggled quite a bit or a great deal to get their parent’s attention when their parent was on their cell phone or tablet” in a 2017 study

I raised my three now-young-adult children pre-digitally. These days, its fairly common to see a dad at the playground, benched and engrossed in his phone while a child desperately tries to get him to witness their feat on the monkey bars (admittedly, for the 10th time). Equally distressing is seeing moms pushing prams or strollers, deeply engaged in conversation with someone on the end of a headset rather than with their small child.

Frankly, I get it. Although I was late to the smartphone game, and was initially mystified when told my phone could take pictures - why would I need a phone to do that?  (I currently have 43,963 photos on my phone!)  I am very dependent on my phone and had to add an external case to get through the day. The other day I walked into the office building where I had a meeting only to realize I had left my phone in my car. Given my level of distress (“OMG, I don’t have my phone!”), you’d have thought I’d left a toddler locked in the back seat.   And yes, I went back to get it.

If ever there were a moment for intentional and mindful parenting, this would be it.

There are vast bodies of research on early-child brain development that point to the vital link between parent-child conversation and language development. As a young mom, I considered every walk and outing a chance for a complete conversation with my kids. Even when kids are pre-verbal, there is tremendous value in little ones being part of the conversation. As I found, it’s never too early to begin describing the wonders of the world they’ll soon come to talk about first-hand.

Famed child development researcher Dr. Edward Tronick spent his career “trying to put his feet into the shoes of an infant” to better understand how they function in the world. His research shows – in achingly painful detail – what children experience emotionally when parents aren’t responsive to their attempts to connect and communicate. Infants, even newborns, he says, endeavor to “make meaning about the world.” And they’re looking to us to help them.

So – given the stakes - what’s an intentional parent to do?

Inventory your tech habits when you’re with your children and take objective note of what you find.

Remember that this is about your kids’ well-being, not your (or your employer’s) needs.

Be mindful about what we – and our kids -- lose if we’re not present and available when we’re with them.  

Pivot. If you’re spending too much family time otherwise distracted by your phone, make and set some rules for yourself – and stick to them.

Finally, know that we are always modeling for our kids – even when we’re engaged in behavior we don’t want our children to emulate.  So be mindful of what you do, and teach your children by example.  Remember, its never too late to do better!

Tips For Keeping Grandparenting The Great Gig That It Is!

The official commemoration of Grandparent’s Day is the Sunday after Labor Day, but most grandparents will tell you that every day is grandparent’s day if you’re lucky enough to be one!

I suspect you’ve heard (or said!) some variant of this: “I know I’m biased, but my granddaughter / grandson is one of the smartest / most creative / most coordinated / most [you-name-it!] child I have ever known.” 

It’s a great job if and when you get it – and everyone benefits from intergenerational relationships. Let me enumerate the benefits first…and then I’ll share a few tips for hanging on to this plum assignment!

Values of GrandParenting

The Job Description Can’t Be Beat.

Hands down, the #1 reason grandparenting is so great is that you get all the fun of being a parent without any of the responsibilities! Revel in your special role as cheerleaders, spoilers, supporters and bestowers of unconditional love.

You Get to Share Your History and Passions

Grandchildren, particularly as they grow up, look to grandparents for their perspectives and advice. So share your values, your family history and what life was like for you at their age.

Share your passions, too. My parents are great art lovers and collectors, and they’ve shared this with my kids both in terms of cultural outings and gifts of art. Of course my kids appreciate the inherent value of the works, but they truly treasure being a part of their grandparents’ legacy.

Even so, it’s not the “stuff” grandparents give; it’s the connection. My mom always sent my kids little things to let them know she was thinking of them. Pinecones she collected on a walk…a random purchase on the street…a funny postcard. My kids loved receiving it all.

The Gifts (of Health) Keep On Giving

Being a grandparent can help older adults stay active, which often translates to better health. There are mental health benefits as well.

One study demonstrates that women who spent one day a week caring for young grandchildren may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Another studied examined the link between quality grand-parenting relationships and depression and found that if the relationship is a high-quality one and support is mutual, both grandparents and grandchildren experience reduced incidence of depression.

You Can Help Out When / If You Want

Many grandparents have the economic freedom to defray education or medical costs for their grandchildren. If you have the means and want to help, it’s a great feeling. And typically there aren’t any negative tax consequences.  My children and I are grateful for the college tuition assistance and also recognize my Dad’s commitment to their education.

When it comes to your time, it’s up to you to set limits based on your energy and availability.

How to Keep the Gig!

Let Parents Rule.

Parents have a major role to play in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in that they set the rules and determine the consequences for the moral and ethical education of their kids.

One grandmother I know has the right approach. She says she always lets her daughter and son-in-law make the parenting rules – and she never shares her opinion on anything except to admire it. “I might not always agree with them, but my opinions are not on the table. The kids are their responsibilities to raise and our responsibility to love.”

Adopt the Right Tone.

Don’t be judgmental. Your grandkids will experiment with tons of things that may be foreign to you. Unless your grandkids are into something dangerous, keep your opinions to yourself. Respect and honor their choices about food, hairstyles, clothing, etc. Unsolicited advice or commentary is often heard as criticism and may be alienating.

p.s. Don’t be hurt by the occasional sassy comment. Kids can be insensitive, but it’s often age-appropriate and not intended to be rude or disrespectful.

Learn to Use Technology.

If grandparents want to have full access to their grandkids, they have to get proficient with the technology their grandchildren are using. My kids never listen to voicemails, so my Mom knows that if she wants to get in touch, she needs to text them. And while Facebook may be the preferred social media for baby boomers, their teen and tween grandkids are much more apt to use Instagram or Snapchat.

Stay Involved.

Don’t always wait for an invite. Offer to help by taking the kids out for an afternoon if you’re local or for a visit if you’re long-distance. Other ways to stay involved is to gift parents with a cleaning service or a spa afternoon. Remember how overwhelming it was for you as new parents and do something you might have appreciated.

But don’t keep score on who is contacting whom. If you want to stay engaged with your grandchildren, reach out to them.

Make Your Home Welcoming

A kid-friendly home makes visiting much less stressful for everyone. Make a quick sweep around the house to remove breakables and irreplaceables. If possible, borrow, rent or buy things like strollers, pack-n-plays, high chairs and even bikes so your kids don’t have to schlep them. And stock some fun toys and children’s books.

What if there aren’t any grandparents in the picture, either by death or lack of interest?   

Building a tribe is always the best solution – even when grandparents are in the picture. One friend of mine, who regularly volunteered at a senior center, unofficially 'adopted' grandparents for her kids.

If you’re the type that would like a more detailed primer on how to be the perfect grandmother or grandfather, check out the American Grandparents Association for resources, tips and other perks.

Either way, enjoy the best job in the world!



4 Keys to Intentional Millennial Parenting

Consider the pendulum…or the seesaw.

From its fixed position of equilibrium, a pendulum’s bob travels from far left to far right over the course of time. The seesaw? As the saying goes, “What goes up…must come down.”

We parents can be similarly reactive to stimuli when we first begin the journey of raising our children …particularly when the stimulus is our own upbringing.

Actually, shifting trends have long governed parenting styles. In the 30s, the authoritarian model (read: “My way or the highway”) was the norm. A generation later, television’s Ozzie and Harriet were prototypes for a super traditional take on family life. In the 70s, social and cultural upheaval relaxed parenting standards and upended gender roles.

That pretty much brings us current.

Many millennial parents – who produce 80% of the 4 million annual U.S. births –were helicoptered beyond reckoning. You were trophy-saturated, uber-scheduled, self-focused and over-managed. No wonder many of you are doing exactly the opposite of what your parents did when it comes to raising your little ones.

But don’t reflexively take the default position by becoming overly permissive or, if you loved being helicoptered, repeat what was done to you. Instead, be intentional and mindful when making decisions about how to raise your children. That’s parenting at its best.

An intentional parent is an empowered parent. It’s the state I aim for with every parent I coach, every friend I advise and every family member who comes to me for support.

Here are four keys to becoming an empowered parent:

·      Know your values

·      Build your tribe

·      Tolerate your imperfections

·      Be digitally smart – and safe

Know your values.

Intentional parents anchor their decisions in their core values.

Identifying your values is simply pinpointing what matters to you from a moral or ethical perspective. These are the guiding principles you believe will help your child become successful, emotionally healthy and contributing members of society.

Once you know what you’re trying to teach your children, you can look at your choices and decisions as basically backfill.

·      Want your kid to be resilient? Then make sure you don’t unintentionally smooth every path for them.

·      Want them to learn to be responsible? Teach them, through consequences, the impact of their choices. (More on protecting them from online consequences below.) 

Build your tribe.

Intentional parents know how important most decisions are, and we want to make sure we are making the right choices for our kids.

A (generally) foolproof way to ensure that is to build a circle of people you trust with whom you can suss out tough decisions. I’m not just talking about professionals, although pediatricians, parenting coaches and doulas can offer great advice. Nor am I referring exclusively to crowd-sourced info via the Internet, which can also be valuable.

I’m talking about including other moms and dads – of all ages – in your tribe.

People whose values you respect.

Relatives whose parenting practices resonate.

Friends with whom you can vet your decisions and talk things through.

Folks with whom you can be vulnerable and insecure without embarrassment or shame.

This tribe will also help you develop confidence in yourself and your understanding of your kids and their individual needs.

Tolerate your imperfections.

Then there are those decisions that don’t work out quite as you had planned. 

Every parent makes mistakes. Every parent has failures. If you haven’t yet done so, prepare to join the club before too long.

Successful parents learn to tolerate and accept their imperfections. You’re human, too. I’ll bet you encourage your first-stepping toddlers to pop back up and try again after a fall. Do yourself the same favor. Rather than wallow in worry or regret when a decision doesn’t pan out as you’d hoped, let your hard-won knowledge mobilize and empower you.

Consider your missteps a teaching moment and model for your kids how to recover and retool after a mistake. You’ll be helping yourself – and modeling resiliency and self-love – at the same time.

Be digitally smart – and safe.

In caveman days, parenting mistakes had dire consequences. If parents didn’t teach their children to stay close to an adult, chances are they became lunch for a saber tooth tiger.

As the first generation of digital-native parents, millennials are in uncharted territory when it comes to the impact of technology on parenting and children. In this age, every moment of your kids’ lives could be public record. This gives you an extra parental responsibility to be digitally smart and safe.

While you may have already researched this topic online ad nauseum, permit this digital immigrant and parenting coach to share her perspective – and a few cautionary tips.

·      Protect your young children online by being intentional and mindful of the information and photos you post. When they’re old enough (perhaps before, but surely as soon as they get their first device), leverage online parental controls when available – and make sure your kids understand the future consequences of information posted online. That's not something you want them to learn via “natural consequences.”

·      I’m often struck by the highly curated nature of family-related posts and photos on social media. Even the toddler meltdown is curated for ultimate entertainment value! Remember that as parents, we all have beautiful moments…and moments of failure and even catastrophe. Enjoy what you see and read, but be sure to contextualize it so you are less apt to judge yourself by the curated standards you see on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.

·      If you’re feeling vulnerable about your parenting or you feel depressed after viewing your friends and/or other family’s sites – give yourself a tech timeout. It is counterproductive to compare your kids’ development with what it seems their peers are doing. This is especially true if your child has special needs or follows a non-linear developmental path.

·      I totally get the desire to read all the blogs, listen to multiple parenting podcasts and crowd-source parenting advice. Research to your hearts content – but question the veracity of what you view online. There are multiple perspectives on how to parent – online and off. The ones that matters most are yours. You alone know the difference between your child’s cry of frustration and her cry of true distress.

In my parent coaching practice, it often comes down to me reflecting back to a concerned Mom and/or Dad the values I’ve heard them share behind a pending decision. I always tell the parents I coach –Parent in the way that reflects your values. You – and your children – will be glad you did.


5 Pieces of Advice for Parents of High School Freshman

Sweaty palms and jangled nerves.

Anxiety about navigating a new world.

Intense desires to fit in.

Frenzied fears they won’t.

That’s the emotional terrain most teens traverse as they make their way across the wide expanse from elementary to high school.

It’s a sizable transition by all accounts – social, psychological, academic and physical. The rub is that the transition needs to be experienced… your teen can’t really prepare for it. But as parents, you can help along the way.

That’s why this posts offers guidance on the 5 most relevant and fraught topics your freshman (or freshwoman) will continually face as he or she evolves from an incoming 9th grader to bona fide high schooler. They are, in no particular order:

1.    Drinking and drugs

2.    Making friends

3.    Academic expectations

4.    Romantic relationships

5.    The digital domain

 One caveat: There are no magic solutions or established protocols that will work for every teen in every family. What’s essential is that as parents, you understand your own feelings about these high-stakes high school hurdles. That enables you to make intentional decisions based on your values – and the outcome you want for your child. Then you articulate them again… and again.

Let’s talk teens.

1.    Drinking and drugs.

Personally, my values are that teenagers should not drink or take drugs. My (now grown) kids knew this because I told them – early and often. And the more they heard me say it, the more it was in their head when they were faced with that choice.

Unlike my teenagers, I had the parental gift of perspective and insight, so I shared my knowledge about drugs and alcohol with them, especially regarding the:

·      Difference of the alcohol levels in beer vs. spirits

·      Implications of mixing uppers (like red bull) with downers (alcohol)

·      Difference of the effects of drinking on a 200-pound boy vs. a 100-pound girl

·      Legal consequences of drinking or taking drugs on school property

·      Legal consequences of driving while under the influence

·      Legal implications for me if minors drank in my home

Granted, my telling them all these things didn’t prohibit my children from making their own choices (good and bad), but they absolutely knew what the pitfalls and consequences could be.

Most important, we always had a plan in the event their decisions turned out badly. My kids knew they could call me at any time if they needed a ride. And if they texted me the phrase “911,” that was code for me to rescue them while they could still save face with their friends.

 2.    Making friends.

The headline?  Play dates are over.

 In elementary school you had some say – or at least sway – over your kids’ friends. But in high school, who your teen befriends is no longer up to you.

Big changes are afoot socially. Eighth-graders who were on top of the food chain just 12 weeks prior now find themselves at the bottom. Fueled by a desire to fit in and be accepted, most teens find themselves in wholly new territory.

High school is a great time to explore new friendships. It’s a time to try on different personalities, and maybe even re-invent oneself entirely. While I can relate to the desire for your special frosh to meet and hang out with other “good” kids, their reinvention might just look cockeyed from your point of view. My advice? Let them be.

It’s actually okay to be a little permissive if your teen explores in arenas that aren’t mortally threatening (Goth dress or unconventional hair color, for example). If their choices are discordant with your family’s values, then of course it’s time to step in and make your values known – again. Outside of that, try not to be authoritative in this arena.

The bottom line?  Kids need to work out their friendship and relationship issues on their own unless you’re specifically asked. Then you may share these five ideas with your frosh. Otherwise, provide support, empathy and insight, but don’t interfere.

3.    Academic expectations

The academic divide between grade school and high school can be daunting. More is expected of high school students. And there is less hand-holding by teachers (and there should be less hand-holding by parents!)

It is difficult to stay out of the way and not help or rescue your child as they struggle with this transition. Do your best to let your son or daughter navigate the new academic demands and manage relationships with their teachers. Be empathic to their struggles, while you help them advocate for themselves.

I appreciate the difficulty of watching a child struggle and resisting the urge to fix the problem. By all means, listen to their concerns and help them uncover ways to approach the problem. And provide a reality check for an anxious teen who can’t fathom recovering from a poor grade.

But when we get overly engaged, it disempowers our children and sends the message that we don’t think they can handle the challenges they face. If we want to build resilient, confident kids, we have to let them deal with these situations, and learn that they can, indeed, figure out their academic problems and do well. Here are some tips worth passing on:

·      Encourage them to build relationships with their teachers and regularly check in with them on their progress

·      Take advantage of in-school resources like writing labs, National Honor Society tutoring, and mentorship opportunities          

·      Identify a go-to person in each class (may not always be a friend) that can be relied upon to provide notes or a heads-up about missed assignment after an absence


In a very real sense, your teen’s mastery of the challenges of high school academics are the 21st century skills they’ll need for post-graduation work and their college career.        

4.    Romantic relationships

Just like with drinking and drugs, I didn’t tell my kids how I felt about teens and sex in one big talk prior to high school. I shared my values with them over and over again. And I assure you, they weren’t always receptive to these conversations.

If you’re not comfortable talking about sex with your kids, get help getting there. Your kids need to know your values about love and sex. Not telling them is a missed opportunity to spark a dialogue. It may not happen in the moment, but if your teens hear you speak naturally and often about typically taboo or uncomfortable topics, it’s more likely they’ll see you as someone with whom they can discuss these issues.

If your kid is the one who is uncomfortable having that conversation with you, give them a great sex-ed book or two. Do not let them construct the narrative about healthy sexuality exclusively from the Internet and their friends. 

Just like with alcohol and drugs, as parents we ought to share essential info with our teens:

·      The efficacy of various birth control methods – and access to them if you’re comfortable with that

·      Dangers of sexually transmitted disease

·      Importance of consent and being a respectful partner

·      Issues around sexual orientation and acceptance

·      Emotional attachment as a consequences of sex

·      Impact of drugs/alcohol on decision-making and sex

And with young women 16 to 24 experiencing the highest rates of rape, sexual assault and stalking, teens need to know how to take action if any of these occur.

Sharing my values about sex may not have always led to the outcomes I personally wanted for my kids, but it did lead to learning opportunities for them, as well as conversations by which they could begin to establish their personal values about sex and relationships. I call that a win.

5.    The digital domain

When even the youngest of the current crop of parents were in high school, tweeting, sexting, texting and social media were unimaginable. Today, it’s the world in which we live… and around which your teens’ lives will forever revolve.

Talk with your teens about what is appropriate to view online and what is appropriate to share online. They do not know this innately, and therefore are more vulnerable to predators and other severe consequences.

It’s especially important that teens understands several things about their digital footprints:

·      The acronym “www” stands for worldwide web, which is exactly how far their posts travel

·      There is no privacy on the web; everything posted is officially on the record –potentially for all time

·      Unflattering digital exposure can be easily viewed by college admissions officers and future employers who aren’t above relinquishing offers based on what they see online

While the idea may be a tough sell to a 14-year-old, talk regularly about how you practice social media professionalism and point out examples of social media gone wrong whenever you see it.

Well, there you have my 5 pieces of advice for parents of high school freshman.

Here’s a bonus piece of Intel: If you do not want to be one of those parents freaking out because your incoming college freshman isn’t ready for university life, begin their preparation today.

Do not handicap your high school freshman by protecting them from failing. Do not handicap them by interfering with every decision they make. Let them stumble… or even fail.

As educational reformer John Dewey insisted, failure could be as essential to learning as succeeding. Your job is to give your teen every opportunity there is to practice self-reliance and problem solving in high school. The best you have to offer is your support, validation and empathy as they do the hard work of growing up.

One final note:  While I consider myself a parenting expert, it’s been more than a few years since I crossed the threshold into high school for the first time. So if your kids seriously tune you out – or if you sense they’ll be more responsive to hearing about high school from someone born in the 21st century – here’s some advice from the pros – high school sophomores! Their recommendations aren’t half-bad.


Want FREE parenting advice? Email and ask me a parenting question.