Fact vs. Fiction

How much screen time is your kid allowed?

Ideally my kids wouldn’t be on for more than an hour a day, but I’d be lying if I said that’s how long they are on.

During the school year it’s a little easier to control / oversee, but honestly we’ve tried to let our kids have a little more freedom and better manage themselves (e.g, consequences if you stay up late playing a game and then are overtired and/or don’t do optimally on a test). It’s a hard lesson to have our kids learn but a needed one (in our opinion).

We were sitting outside having dinner recently on a nice weather evening and got on the topic of what my youngest had learned about a region in the world. He was providing great insights and my husband could validate what he was sharing as he’d spent time in this region himself. My husband made an observation, “it’s interesting to me who you use the internet to educate yourself and find reliable sources to do so. Why is that?” We we’re impressed but also a little surprised since so many people seem to think if it’s in the internet it’s real. 😬 Our son recounted a story about watching videos on YouTube and us telling him what he was watching wasn’t factual or accurate. We pointed out the host of the channel was clearly trying to convince people (for entertainment value or subscribers?) of outlandish things such a Big Foot being real. We told him, if there really was a Big Foot, don’t you think someone would have found him/her by now? What does it eat? How long does it live? It can’t live forever. Our son took this information in and clearly decided that he needed to rethink where he got his information from prior to treating it like fact.

Now, take my oldest son. He also watches YouTube, but we’re not sure he uses such a discerning eye as our youngest. In an attempt to show his independence he’ll push back when we try to discuss something (usually politics) as a family and take a different position to be, well different. And I can live with that if he’s only doing this to show he can think for himself. My concern is that he gets influenced to the point he believes the false narrative as truth, vs. getting his information from a more reliable source (eg someone actually trained in the field/respected). I think it’s a struggle many of us are up against. At this point all I know to do is to listen, counter with facts (and point to the sources) in hopes he understands and accepts the facts even if we disagree on which side we’re on.

How are you helping your kid understand fact from fiction, particularly in what they watch?

What Exactly Are We Teaching — Checkpoint

Do you have those moments when you question what you have (or are) teaching your child?

Our oldest is off on an extended camping trip. He prepared for the trip, ensuring he had his gear, and everything on his checklist. He would have his phone with him, but coverage would be sketchy being in rural terrain. While we knew he’d like his phone to listen to music or a podcast, we were surprised when he wanted to use it to call us.

I’ve shared before, our son will do much to distance himself from us these days — even when at home, so it was a surprise when we got a call the first night he was away. He was with a newer group of kids he didn’t know particularly well and was getting adjusted.

We were surprised when he called again the second and third night. The calls were short, he mainly would run through what he had done, and share how he was doing mentally and physically. Part of me loved him calling. Knowing he was okay, and staying connected. Another part was concerned. Wouldn’t my son grow more (in his confidence, capabilities) if he weren’t in contact with us and made it through the trip without communication? I talked to my husband about it. We agreed that while this was a test run for our son’s future independence, our son needed to know he would be just fine going throughout the trip without being in contact with us. So hard, but needed.

We weren’t sure how to broach the topic with him, but two things came into play — coverage was spotty and some days he didn’t have signal, and his battery (even with power sticks to give him extended use) finally gave out. He’d be forced to go without communication for the second half of the trip. Was I worried? Part of me, yes. Not hearing from him makes he wonder what he’s up to and how he’s doing. But a bigger part of me, the part of me that knows I need to arm him with the skills he needs to be on his own, wasn’t.

I look forward to him getting home with these new experiences and knowledge of his abilities. I’m also waiting for him to want to distance himself again from his father and I. It’s part of growing up. He’s reminding me that I have to stop, periodically, and check in and acknowledge (or challenge) what I’m teaching him. And be aware that time is short as he’ll be off on his own before I know it, and I want to make sure I’ve given him all the tools he’ll need to fly.

What capabilities are you most interested in giving your child? What prompts you to check-in regarding what your teaching your child?

Independence Day

As we get ready to celebrate July 4th, independence is top of mind.

We ventured to the east coast over Spring Break and visited Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and Philadelphia, PA. It was a trip my husband and I had always wanted to take our kids on, to allow our kids to get a better understanding of our country’s founding, and see historical and iconic sites.

I’ve talked about my teens starting to embrace their budding independence. Going to these sites made me better appreciate what it took for us (as a country) to become free, and the guts it took to do so. Though youth emerging to adulthood isn’t revolutionary, it can be a battle — trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be — maybe pushing against others (parents, teachers, coaches, friends?) who are trying to tell (or influence) who you are — to be you.

This Independence Day, I am in awe of those that helped paved the way for us to live in this wonderful (though not perfect) country. I’m also in awe of my boys as they fight through the trials and tribulations of becoming the men they will be as there is courage, bravery, and strength, in being uniquely you.

How are you helping your child embrace who they are? How are you encouraging their independence?

I will be taking time off to celebrate the holiday weekend with friends and family, and will return in July.

Movie Night

What’s the last movie you watched as a family?

We typically do movie night on Saturdays. We rotate who gets to pick the movie. Sometimes we take a vote. It was my husband’s turn and he chose 10 Things I Hate About You. The movie came out in 1999, and is/was a modern day take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. My husband picked it for some of the local background (being shot in and around the Puget Sound), and for the story.

I had seen the movie before, but missed a message that likely didn’t resonate with me the first time I saw it, two decades ago. In the scene, the single father is talking to his oldest daughter who is desperately seeking her independence and expresses herself by rebelling against any boxes others put her in (how she’s supposed to act, dress, and/or care about others opinions). The father has a heart-to-heart with his daughter at one point in the movie, understanding that her standing on her own is unavoidable. He is realizing how fast time is going (and has gone), and wants to connect with her while there is still time left. He makes his plea, noting she’s had him watching on the sidelines (vs. being in the game or on the field together) for some time. When I first saw the film, this statement went right past me. This time in stuck. With my boys bring 16 and 14, my husband and I were being directed to the sidelines more and more often.

I discussed it with my oldest a few days later. I referred to the scene in the movie, and shared my awareness of his growing desire for more independence. “Our time is limited. You’ll be on your own before you know it. I know you want your independence, but please let your father and I in, even a little more, just so we can better know you before you are off on your own.” I’m not sure my son understands that he is a mystery to anyone, but he has become a bit of a mystery to my husband and I, as his desire is to mostly be in his room, or out with friends. Only having short, pointed conversations with us here or there, making us curious who he is, what he’s thinking, and what he thinks about things (issues, himself, life in general). We’ll keep trying. I’m not ready to fully be ‘in the stands’ just yet. 😊

What do you connect over as a family? What movie scenes have stuck with you in regards to your parenting journey?

I’ll be off next week celebrating Memorial Day with family and friends and will return in June.

Reluctantly Independent

My oldest has his license and can drive where he needs to most of the time (as he shares my car). With this independence, my husband and I expected him to want to do more driving and be out on his own, and he has sort of.

My son normally spends much of his free time with his best friend, who lives a few miles away. They often go to local parks to workout, and hang out with other friends. He and his friend where planning to go to a baseball game they had gotten free tickets to. My son decided he no longer wanted to drive. He asked if I would drop him off at his friends. “What’s going on?,” I asked,”why don’t you just drive yourself over?” He seemed aggravated that I didn’t just agree to drive him. Shaking his head (oh, teens! 😊) he said, “well, I’m not sure where I’m going to park for the game, and I might get too close to something and get a ticket.” I could feel his discomfort but knew I needed him to drive himself to his destination, for no other reason than for him to gain more confidence in his abilities. I needed him to know for himself that he could do this ‘new’ thing (park somewhere new where the rules might be a little bit different) and regardless of the outcome he could figure it out. When my son saw I wouldn’t budge from my position, he looked at my husband who’d been standing nearby and my husband confirmed with a simple ”nope” that he wouldn’t drive him either. My son, clearly unhappy, went to his room.

My husband and I discussed what happened. Why was our son suddenly wanting us to drive him? What was behind this? We know he has a bit of an anxious undercurrent going, it rises to the surface when he tries new things. Learning how to drive is about the most scary new thing you can do, yet my son knows how to drive and the new situation was getting him to challenge his independence and some of the uncertainty (growing, making mistakes, learning) that come with the territory. We agreed we had to hold firm, and if our son wanted to go, he’d have to drive himself.

When it was time for my son to leave, he exited his room, grabbed the car key, and went out the door. No “I’m leaving,” he just went. I knew in his quiet exit he was trying to convey “fine, I’ll do it (or I’ll show you!), but I’m not going to like it.” It felt familiar to me, and thinking I had likely handled situations similar when I was his age with my parents. 😊 Of course, he went to the game, had a great time, and had no issue with parking. I was grateful. While reluctant, by simply driving to a game, my son was growing in his comfort with his independence.

How do you help your child gain the confidence they need to do something that is new(er) or they aren’t comfortable with? How are you helping them gain an appreciation for what they are capable of?

Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

Sexuality

Puberty and sexuality were the two aspects of parenting I was happy I wouldn’t be challenged with for many years when my kids were young, but time has passed and we are now in the full swing of puberty and my boys exploring their sexuality.

My oldest is quiet in regards to his sexuality. He’s opened up to me in the past around feelings of possibly not fitting in one box. My response, that’s fine, you’ve got time to figure this out, Mom and Dad will support you regardless. My youngest is much more vocal and confident in his.

Being on the spectrum, it is not uncommon for sexuality to be more fluid. When my youngest was in elementary school he didn’t like “boy” things (sports, fighting, etc.) and said, “I wish I were a girl.” We explored if he truly wanted to be female and was struggling with gender assignment, but after talking more with him, counselors and therapists, he really liked being a boy (having a boy’s body), he just didn’t like the gender stereotypes that were being thrust upon him being male. We told him that he was perfectly fine as he is, and he needn’t worry about trying to conform or change.

Fast forward to middle school, puberty and sex education are big topics. My husband took both boys to a course at our local children’s hospital when each turned 11. My oldest found it a little uncomfortable but informative. My youngest found it informative and traumatic. When the instructor talked about the act of sex, my son got so upset he started crying and almost threw up.

They are talking about acceptance in his school and how to appreciate everyone as they are, including how they dress, talk, act, sexual orientation, etc. My son has gained confidence in expressing comfort in his differences. He shared one day in the car a few months ago, “Mom, I think I’m bisexual.” My reply, “That’s great.” I tried to just stay even keeled wanting to know I love him and support him no matter what. More recently he’s voiced that he is gay. To that, I’ve said, that is great too. He seemed to want to get more of a reaction out of his father and I when we were in the car driving together. “I just have to tell you, I’m pretty sure I’m gay and that isn’t going to change.” He was so happy about it, it made me smile, but I had to ask some clarifying questions. “Being gay is great, but I’ve wondered if maybe you’re asexual?” He responded, “No, Mom. Being asexual means you aren’t interested in other people. I am.” I continued. “I think asexual can also mean that you like other people but aren’t interested in having intercourse. Let’s look up the definition.” We looked it up. The definition we found read:

Asexual is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation, and others describe it as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual can also be an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of asexual sub-identities, such as demisexual, grey-A, queerplatonic, and many others. Asexual people may identify as cisgender, non-binary, transgender, or any other gender.

After reading the definition I shared my observation. “I think you like others, and the idea of holding hands and kissing is fine, but you have no interest in sexual intercourse or touching. What do you think?” He thought about it and said, “You’re right. I’m fine with holding hands and kissing, but don’t want to do any of that other stuff.” My husband and I said ultimately it does not matter how he identifies now or in the future, we still love him just as he is.

It was important for me to have this conversation with him because as he becomes more independent and starts to explore acting on his attraction to others that he does so with all the information. I don’t want others to misinterpret his wants and desires. I shared with him, “if you tell people you are gay, they may assume you are comfortable with having sex. And if you are, that’s fine. But if you aren’t, that’s something you’ll need to let your partner know so there isn’t any confusion, and people don’t get upset or hurt.” We will definitely have to have more conversations with him as he grows to help him navigate (we’ll be learning along with him).

How are you helping your child accept who they are? How are you helping them better communicate their wants, needs, and desires to others?

Testing Independence

How independent is your child?

When my boys were young I longed for the day they would be able to dress and feed themselves, ride their bike, play with a friend or do an activity without parent supervision. As teens, my boys have been able to do these things for quite some time, but now are moving into the phase of wanting more independence.

My oldest is quickly embracing being a young man. Learning to drive, growing taller, and feeling more confidence in his capabilities helps. He has moved into a phase where he is testing his independence.

Our son does sport conditioning most weekday mornings. He has his father or I to pick him when he is done. It can be challenging to do based on my husband and my work commitments. I was feeling good when I got to the parking lot to pick up my son early one day. I was able to finish a work call and let my son know I was there. He had his phone and asked me from the field, “A couple of upper class men want me to lift weights with them after practice. Can I stay with them? I’ll get a ride home later.” “Sure,” I replied and headed home. I didn’t think much of it until we gathered around the dinner table later. “How did lifting go?” I asked. “Oh, it was fine. We only did it for a little bit than went over to one of the guy’s houses and played basketball. That was fun.” “What?,” I said, “why didn’t you tell me where you were going?” “It just kind of happened,” my son replied. We spent the next few minutes discussing why us knowing where he is is important. I reminded him of a saying I’ve said to him before, “I can’t help you if I can’t see you or don’t know where you are.” He said he understood and would be more upfront with his whereabouts.

Fast forward to the next day. He asks if he can join a friend to go boating in a nearby lake. The assumption was there would be adult supervision. At dinner that night we asked how boating went. “It was great. We went tubing behind the boat. It was a lot of fun.” “Who all was there?,” I asked. “My friend, his 18 year-old brother and his friend.” Wait, what? I thought. “Was one of his parents with you?” “No,” my son replied, “but his brother has his boating license.” Oh boy, I thought, here we go again. My husband and I then discussed with our son the importance of providing upfront information. Being truthful about where you’re going, and who will be there, is important. It helps us as parents know how to find you if needed, give guidance, not to mention build trust. And with trust comes more independence. We pivoted the conversation and tried to help our son understand that the situation could have presented challenges he wasn’t prepared for. “You don’t know the older brother that well or his friend. What if one of them brought alcohol or an edible trying to be cool? What would you have done? There are cops of the lake that patrol for just this thing. And if you get caught on a boat where someone else is doing something wrong you may get be accused simple by proximity and/or association. Not only do we (your father and I) need to know where you are and the details, you also need to assess the situation and make sure you’ve got a plan if you feel like you need to leave.” He was upset. He thought we were challenging him on his judge of character. “I’m sure your friend’s brother is a good kid, but you’ve said so yourself, you didn’t know the friend. This isn’t about your judgment of character, it’s about you understanding the importance of being honest with us, aware of your surroundings, and having a plan for when things go south (how can you safely exit the situation, how can you get help if needed (be if from mom or dad or the authorities, etc.)),”

It was a needed conversation that I’m quite sure we’ll have again. “Part of growing up includes making mistakes and learning from them. Your father and I are trying to help you better navigate growing up, and avoid mistakes as much as we can. That’s it. We’re not trying to be harsh, or firm, or difficult.” He seemed to understand—we’ll see.

How is your kid showing their independence? What conversations are you having with them to help them make good choices as they grow?

I’ll be off for the next few weeks enjoying time away with the family and will be back later in August.

Away Camp

Does your child go to away camp?

When I was a kid I went to away camp. I absolutely hated it. I was super home sick (made worse by a friend I went with who was more home sick than I) and never adjusted or got comfortable with my new environment. I’m sure there was upside to me — learning to survive in new situations, etc., but at the time it was painful. I was so excited when I got to go home.

Fast forward to the present, based on my experience, we never pushed away camp on our kids, though we knew there would be benefit if they decided to go. Our youngest surprised us a few years back (pre-COVID) when he agreed to go. I was a little concerned (was he ready for it?), but we decided to let him go. Low and behold, the outfit ended up canceling the camp a few weeks in advance. All their other camps were full, but this particular one hadn’t gotten enough campers. My son was a little disappointed, I was a bit relieved. 😊

This year, our youngest had an opportunity to visit a friend who had traveled to another state where they have a family cabin. My son knows his friend well and he was very excited at the prospect of going away, so we agreed to let him.

At the airport, he was a mix of nerves and excitement. I encouraged him to treat the coming trip as an adventure. “This is part of growing up. This experience will help give you confidence when you are older and go out on your own.” A discussion I might have benefited from had my parents had it with me before I went to camp (or did they and I forgot? 😊). He agreed. He gave me a big hug and got on the plane. He was aided by the airline to get to his final destination but did great. FaceTime kept us connected while he was away. Makes me so proud to see him able to do this, and know being away is helping build his confidence and his independence.

Away camp is just one way kids have new adventures and are forced to grow (regardless if they love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between). How are you helping your child build their confidence and/or independence?

Father and Son Conversations

Anyone stubborn in your household?

If we had a competition in my house for who was most stubborn, I think it would be a four-way tie. 😊 We all have our moments of digging in.

My husband and our oldest son do volunteer work in the community most weeks. My husband thought it would be nice if he and my son went out to dinner, just the two of them, following a volunteer event. He was excited by the idea and told my son the plan. It went over like a lead balloon. My oldest didn’t want to go out to eat, and when my husband pressed my son for why, my son could only respond with that he didn’t know. My husband came to the dinner table, deflated, hurt, and a little angry. My son went to his room. I inquired what happened, was told, and then let some time pass to see how my husband and son would resolve the situation.

I waited, then waited some more. Nothing happened. I finally told my husband I was going to talk to our son.

When I went into my son’s room. I told him I understood he and his father had a conversation and it hadn’t gone so well. He explained, “You know I love you guys, but, I don’t know, (he paused as if trying to pick his words carefully), I don’t want to go out with you by myself, it just feels weird. You know?” I knew what he was talking about and shared, “I do understand what you are talking about. You know why it feels weird, right?” I paused. He looked a little puzzled. “Because you are becoming more…” I trailed off. “Independent,” he said. I could tell this was an aha moment for him. “This is part of growing up,” I continued, “it’s normal for you to want to do more on your own, with your friends, and start to pull away from parents. But guess how Mom and Dad look at this time. We see how quickly you are growing and know it won’t be too long before you’re off on your own. We’ll be lucky to get to spend any time with you. The time we have now is precious and special to us, and while I get you don’t want to be seen with us, you might throw us a bone now and then and have a meal out with us (though any activity will do). We love you kiddo.” He smiled while trying not to smile.

I asked my son to go talk to my husband, who was sitting out in our backyard. He resisted but then went outside. I stayed inside and tried to give them some privacy. My son came in a few minutes later and returned to his room. I figured all had been resolved.

My husband came in a while later. “Did you all talk and get things resolved?” I asked. “No,” my husband replied. “But I saw him go outside. Didn’t you all talk?” “No,” my husband said, “he came outside, walked around a little bit and then went back in.” Ugh, I thought. This is crazy. First, why didn’t my son take to his father, and second, why hadn’t my husband talked to my son? Their stubbornness was shining through.

Not long after, my son walked in the living room, saw my husband was there and started to turn back towards his room. I told my son, “stay right there,” then I looked at my husband, “now you, go into your son’s room and talk this out.” It felt a little ridiculous that I had to instigate this, but I couldn’t take them not talking any longer.

My husband came out of my son’s room after a while. “All good?” I inquired. “Yes, all good.” He later thanked me for intervening, and agreeing they were both being stubborn. I could tell he felt better, my son felt better, which, of course, made me feel better.

How do you handle when you (or your child is) are being stubborn? How do you help your child communicate more effectively?