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I'm openly reading his text messages - and you won't believe what they say

I know what your daughter texts to my son.  She’s sending (clothed) pictures and videos of herself. Did you know?  She’s asking my son to kiss her at school.  She alarmed me when I read her text that another boy is trying to hurt himself (I acted on that one and my son had already reached out to the boy to ensure he was safe). That said, most of their conversation is cute with emoji sprinkled throughout.

My son knows I can see his text messages.  He told her as well – no one should think they have privacy if they don’t.  He was complaining to her about it - but he knows the rules and he knows why too.  He knows that I am his training-wheels into the world of digital dialogue.  A world without tone and emotion, emoji notwithstanding.  A world where a poor choice can cause you years of trouble.

Dr. Phil’s Tips to Keep Your Child Safe Online is clearly from a pre-mobile/smartphone/tablet/laptop era.  Common Sense Media recommends creating a family policy for appropriate use – which we did.

Because I monitor my son’s text messages, I think he strives to be kind, appropriate and nicely funny.   I think your daughters' and sons' feelings are much less likely to be accidently hurt because he’s thinking about the reader that he looks in the eye every morning and every night – me. He knows that he can talk with me about text-based peer pressure.  Sometimes I bring it up – such as the concept that you only kiss someone when both you and the other person want to share a kiss – and that it should be private.  Oh, and a gentleman never kisses and tells or talks about another person's body.  Call me old fashioned.

I don’t plan to monitor his text messaging forever. All my kids understand that at any time, their parents can look at the phone and review their text history.  And instagram. They will earn more privacy by showing judgment and responsibility.  They know that too. Digital training wheels. 

By the way, your daughter told my son that she's not allowed to date. I agree with you - sixth grade is too young (not sure how we stop in-school romances). But she's very curious about boys and that's normal. I hope you are reading her texts and talking to her too as she navigates this new, connected, world. Because I don't think everyone is reading their child's texts...


The iPhone/iPad/Kindle Truce of 2014

We cannot beat the devices – they have infiltrated our lives irreversibly.  True – if one moves to a remote island, becomes Amish or sails around the world disconnected from civilization – one can avoid the digital devices. We cannot. Of course, if one cannot afford a digital device, one is facing more important challenges than this one.  That said, since we don't want to eliminate all electronics from our lives, we have to find a way to live in harmony with the devices designed for distraction. I am thrilled that all summer, while at camp, my children experience life device free. But we don't have the stomach to live device free year round.

The effort to exert parental restriction on the digital devices was teaching our children how to become adept at evading detection and dishonesty.  So what is worse -  unmonitored use of digital devices where the device is quickly absorbing much of their unstructured time or the same thing, but having to discern if my child is lying, hiding or otherwise evading interference?

Our initial thoughts on battle strategies:

  • Keep Parentkit on the devices (even though it blocks Spotify, Instagram and Safari) as a requirement for keeping the device
  • Eliminate all games from the devices and ensure they have no way to put them back on by taking away their iTunes account where they use their iTunes gift cards.
  • Switch from iPhone to Android where there are applications for parents to control the device remotely.
  • Take away the devices

Every parent of an (upper) middle class middle-schooler seems to be embroiled in the same struggle.  As far as struggles go, there are some much worse – our children are healthy and safe.  So it’s a first world “problem”. That said, it’s our first world problem. We know that the devices keep our children from socializing face to face and creatively filling their free time.  Or being bored. Or running around. They have unprecedented access to all types of entertainment – at their fingertips (more on that another time). And the answers aren’t simple – suburban tweens and teens communicate and make plans overwhelmingly through these devices.

Our goal is that our children are capable, as young adults, to make responsible choices about how they use technology.  We had a family meeting to talk about what technology is doing to our family.  We invited our children to make a contract with us as the providers of the phone and wireless service and to articulate what they thought was reasonable use and what the consequences would be if they violated the agreement.  We wrote it out and it’s posted in our house.  Here is what we agreed upon:

  1. No devices in bedrooms.  Ever.
  2. No devices in the car until the trip is longer than one hour.  There is no need to text in the car while going from place to place.  If a text comes in, it can be addressed when you arrive at your destination.
  3. Everyone’s devices are placed in the charging stations by the front door when they arrive.  This applies to Mom and Dad too.  The au pair may take his upstairs.  Use the new, super cool charging stations.
  4. Devices can be used for listening to music while doing homework.  Devices can be used for listening to music on the bus.
  5. On the weekends or no-school days, individual devices can be used for 30 minutes per day for entertainment in a public space in the house.  The child will set their timer after stating that they are going to use their 30 minutes.  After that time, they can play together on the Xbox, play board games, cards, go outside, etc.
  6. On a weekend or no-school day when a child is alone in the house, they may have another 30-minute window.

And the consequences:

  • First violation, lose device for one day
  • Second violation, lose device for three days
  • Third violation, lose device for full week

What do you think?  How long do you think the treaty will keep the peace?


Visual Parenting

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Show, don't tell.  These are concepts we understand intuitively - and then often don't use in our parenting.  Enjoy XPlane's work on Visual Parenting - some excellent ideas to both communicate effectively with children visually and encourage visual communication skills as well.

Visual Parenting

What visual parenting ideas do you have?


I love you no matter what

Every parent knows - we love our children, no matter what.  You cannot explain it to anyone who isn't a parent and you didn't understand it until you were a parent. So even when our children are frustrating, disrespectful, unmotivated, digitally absorbed or frightening us, we still love them.  Its important to somehow convey this to them while trying to adapt their behavior.

I read this excellent posting from Hands-Free Mama on To Build or Break a Child's Spirit and I thought it was provocative.  The hardest thing for me as a parent is to recognize when my emotions (exhaustion, reality conflicting with hopes, exasperation) are interfering with my ability to support my child.  Enjoy.




You cannot be in two places at one time.  This physical impossibility defines the “sandwich” generation – those of us with young children still in the home and older parents experiencing the inevitable health issues of aging.  I was in Florida for a tradeshow – 200 miles from my parents – when I received a text, a call and a text from my dad. When I spoke to him, it was clear that I needed to drive down to their home in South Florida to visit.

The last four weeks have been a travel whirlwind with an unprecedented collision of work obligations. My husband and children weren’t happy, but they understood.  I ensured that I was in town for the important end-of-year events that inevitably start in May for each of them. A really big event for my middle boy was the Thursday and Friday of the same week that I was in Tampa.

From the middle of second grade through the end of fourth grade, this bright, athletic boy could not stay out of trouble because of his impulses and undiagnosed (until mid-fourth grade) central auditory processing disorder that amplified sound beyond the point of irritation among other problems. Fifth grade was a revelation. New school and a new teacher who teaches 31 students and still found the time to figure out my son and help him learn the skills to control his impulses, focus his energy and succeed.  And that new school has an audition-only Shakespeare program for fourth and fifth graders.

It was shocking that my boy wanted to audition.  He’d have to give up recess every day except Tuesdays from January through May.  For a boy who lives to run and throw, it’s a major sacrifice. We practiced his audition monologues. He was initially disappointed not to be cast in either the play or the role he wanted – and overcoming that disappointment was a lesson unto itself. Then he embraced his role in the other play and found that it is fun to play the villain of the story.

My boss and my team were unbelievably supportive as I dropped off the grid with no notice. I had a flight home Thursday night that would ensure I made it to my son’s Friday performance.  My mom developed a fever Wednesday night following an outpatient procedure.  But post-surgical fever means doctor on Thursday.  And that’s how I happened to be in the room when the doctor said – “I am sorry to say this, really I am, but the pathology from yesterday showed cancer.”  The treatments that she’d been having all winter, and that made her so uncomfortable, were supposed to eliminate any chance of hearing that diagnosis. It was a punch to the gut – for my parents and for me.  It’s likely not very advanced and there are treatment options, but that’s one of those moments when time stops.

It was fitting that it was raining outside. My reeling parents wanted me to stay for the weekend.  Be with them as they process this news. And I wanted to stay. I felt needed by them and I hoped that I could help them cope. And I wanted to go and celebrate my son’s growth – to be with my family after these weeks of travel (I was home almost every weekend). Sandwiched.

My son sadly acknowledged that Grandma needs me and that I’d watch digitally somehow. He was more concerned about his Grandma than his own disappointment. I was devastated to be missing this play he worked so very hard to do. And then my sister came through for us. She knows what’s its like to receive a cancer diagnosis.  She understands what this weekend may be like for them.  She also knew what my son and I endured together to get to this healthy place. She and her husband re-arranged their weekend so that she could get on a red-eye and arrive in Florida hours after I left – provided I stayed to Friday – which was my husband’s suggestion of a way to help me feel like both a good daughter and a good mother.

So we re-routed again. I stayed Thursday night – which felt good. Poured my dad a scotch and my mom vodka. Made dinner.  Hugged them, listened and shared information I could find, when they asked. It seemed important to sit on the couch next to my dad and watch TV for an hour after my mom went to sleep – just to be close to him. My children are elated that I would be home on Friday and will see the play and all their various sports this weekend.  And each of them shared prayers and love for their grandparents.

Frankly, I’m not sure if I made the right call. G-d, fate, luck or the powerful IV antibiotics she got yesterday made my mother’s fever break during the night – so I was able to make her breakfast and enjoy talking with her this morning after encouraging Dad to play golf. My sister and I are encouraging them to ask for help from their friends – visits, dinner, just going for a walk. As we navigate this journey of aggressive, recurrent bladder cancer, I’m sure that my sister and I will be sandwiched again and again.  Our husbands and children will make arrangements and figure out how to cope when we do. It’s what our generation does. It's likely what generations have been doing throughout time.  What do you do when you are sandwiched?