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?

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?

Green and on the go with Resqueeze

I find empty squeezable applesauce packages all over my house.  It’s a healthy snack, which I like, but not a very green one with the ratio of waste to consumable content. One would think that it’s not very hard to use a spoon and a bowl – but convenience is king and since we buy the packages, they eat them. 

A few months ago, a local company approached me about their new packaging for children’s food.  It is a San Francisco, mom-trepreneurial venture to make a greener solution to feed children babyfood and applesauce on the go.  She created Resqueeze” and it’s a simple, but ingenious concept.  It’s a squeezable bag with a heavy-duty Ziploc on one end and a closeable spout on the other.  Unscrew the cover, squeeze into mouth from the spout and viola – eating on the go.  Unzip the bottom, wash it out and refill for the next trip.

I like the idea. There are many solid arguments to make about slowing down and not eating on the go at all – but in my family’s reality of sports, religious school and music – my kids need something healthy to eat in the car. The product performed (they sent me four pouches to try – inspiring me to make my own applesauce to eat in the snazzy pouches).  They have recipes that look healthy and interesting.  The pouch is easy to fill and easy to clean – dishwasher safe. It seemed hard to tear – but I didn’t try to destroy the things. For my older kids, the cutesy design on the outside of the pouches wasn’t a big selling point – but they thought the reusability was cool. And I knew that I’d find them all over my house but now I can tell the kids to get ‘em, wash ‘em and fill ‘em.

You can learn more about Resqueezables at

Open letter to the 1st Grade Boy's Mom

Dear Mom,

I heard about your son last week - from other moms whose children were pushed or knocked down by your little boy.  I'm sure you are horrified.  I'm sure you have always taught your boy to keep his hands to himself and not to push other people. And I'm sure he understands the rules of the school. 

And yet, when the phone number on your caller ID is our school's number, your heart sinks. You may find yourself punishing him - because the school and other parents want to know that he is "held accountable" for what he's doing - so that he learns how to behave.  And for some reason, people believe that you must not be talking with him or holding him accountable for his behavior.  As if!

I've been there. It sucks. You don't know who to be more upset with - your child, your school, other parents, your partner. The stress in your home and your life is palpable.  You talk with your son.  You talk with the teacher.  You apologize to the other parents.  You are really agitated.

Call me. Write me. You are not alone.

6 or 7 year old boys are not sociopaths. In fact, a very small percentage of the population are actually sociopaths who enjoy causing other people pain.  Your son is not a sociopath.  But if you don't figure out what's upsetting him, he may not naturally (or forcefully by you) just figure out how to behave.

All children are born with an innate desire to learn and to please adults (although I'm told this desire reverses, as nature intended, upon reaching puberty).  Boys often like to please other boys - and being silly or physical is very entertaining. All children push limits - they are supposed to.  But continued incidents convey that your child is communicating with the adults in his life that SOMETHING IS WRONG in his environment.

He knows right from wrong, but he's not able to consider that before he acts.  

This is developmentally normal. Just like kids learn to walk and learn to read at different paces, they also develop self-control at different paces. Girls develop it years earlier than boys.

Its worth it to figure out what's exhausting or irritating him at school (and at home if it happens there - in our personal story, it was a school-only behavior problem).  There are some good resources our there like 4 goals of misbehavior explaining why your son is doing what he's doing. Some possibilities you might consider exploring: 

  • He is not inspired by his learning - possibly because he's very bright or the material doesn't speak to him. Hours (or minutes) of frustration while holding it together can lead to "release" when on the playground
  • He has a learning difference and he's not keeping up or not hearing directions clearly
  • He needs more structure so that he has fewer choices and more opportunity to be successful - many choices and no structure makes many children very anxious
  • The classroom (or playground or other environment) is too chaotic and he doesn't know what to expect from moment to moment - which makes him uncomfortable
  • He needs adults to supervise and redirect him when he no longer has the energy to make good choices - scaffolding him until he realizes that he can be successful anywhere, anytime
  • He has an attention development delay - and he needs more breaks during the day and other support to help him pay attention (be careful on this one - it's incredibly overdiagnosed - check out The Drugging of the American Boy)
  • He is lonely.  He wants a friend or to fit in.  And if there isn't anyone who fits him at his school - find another school
  • He needs to know that he is good.  He needs to be recognized every time he is good and following the rules - so much so that he realizes he gets 10x more attention when he is good. The results of the Nurtured Heart Approach are compelling and its very logical

Parents who never had a child with a learning or emotional development delay likely don't understand.  Justifyably, they are worried about their child's safety.  We live in an era where bumps and scrapes (don't even think about black eyes and bloody noses) are causes of great consternation.  Wish we didn't but that is our era and our community.  You won't get sympathy or support from those parents.  But you will from those of us who have traveled this road.  And there are a lot of those parents through Parents Education Network (PEN).

The first step is to insist upon A/B/C reports (source: Kansas Institute of Positive Behavior Support) - antecedent, behavior, consequence.  For every incident - and it must be completed by an adult who was there. This is about decoding the pattern to figure out what might be triggering your child. Frankly, the school should be collecting and analyzing this data, not you. But it's your child and you are their partner in understanding your son. 

From the A/B/C reports you'll likely have an idea of what's happening and can ask the adults to do something to support what you think is the problem. And you certainly can engage a behavioral expert to test and observe for more precise analysis of the situation.  We ultimately did that and the answers were simultaneously frustrating and fascinating.

I don't know who you are.  I could ask my 1st grade daughter which boy(s) are getting in trouble or having problems...but I don't want to teach her to gossip or pay attention to such things.  My boys are in 5th and 7th.  They are not perfect and neither is my daughter. They are children and even when they are adults, they will still be works in progress. They take steps forward and fall backwards too.  The journey is not easy - but there are teachers and camp counselors and coaches who will be the lights and will bring out the best of your boy. And there are parents who believe everyone develops at their own pace and teaching a child where he is, is best.  And that letting kids deal with the consequences of their behavior among themselves is often the fastest way to learn what is acceptable and what isn't.

Good luck.  Reach out.

Just say “good boy”

It was heartbreaking to realize that my son believes, in his core, that many adults see him as a bad kid. Instead of giving up and proving them right, he chooses to argue with these adults to prove them wrong when he perceives he’s being judged. 

Curiously, he doesn’t argue vociferously at home. My son knows in his core that his father and I believe he is a good boy. We love his cleverness and celebrate his intensity and athleticism. We recognize his competitiveness and applaud his sportsmanship and leadership. In our home or when one of us is with him, our son believes that he is a good boy and that belief makes him calm(er) and reasonable. 

He knows that his best friends’ parents know he’s a good boy and appreciate him.  Both at their homes and at ours, he knows he must follow the rules – and he does, because he’s not “fighting for his life”. Same when he’s at my office. He is appropriate with coaches who also believe he’s a good boy. 

But when he makes a mistake or is involved  (as victim or provocateur) in an incident, our son perceives that other adults in his life judge him as a bad kid.  It began at school when a significant learning issue – central auditory processing disorder – went undiagnosed for two years and my son became very disruptive. Teachers predictably became frustrated and he was frequently punished as efforts were attempted to reduce the disruption. His behavior is especially common among boys with this disorder according to Dr. Gerard – Hearing is Behavior.

The teachers who couldn’t manage him became curt and frustrated with my son – conveying, in his mind, that they judge him a bad kid. Every criticism and every question about an interaction became, for my son, a crisis where he has to prove through arguing with the questioning, doubting adult that their judgment of him is wrong.  And to him, it felt like his very existence depends on it.

It’s frustrating when a child doesn’t do what he is asked.  It’s frustrating when a child seeks attention by disrupting his classmates. The sages teach that we must seek first to understand. Understanding that this boy feels considerable social anxiety because he preceives that adults and peers believe he is bad is the clue to how to adapt the behavior.  The teachers who had success with him conveyed they believed he was good.  And he strove to be good for them.

Our approach now is mutli-facted:

  1. Teach our son awareness that he’s reacting and arguing because he thinks someone believes he’s a “bad kid” – and that he needs to simply answer their questions or do what he’s asked – he doesn’t know what someone else believes.
  2. Encourage and advocate for adults in his life to convey, especially when giving criticism or exploring an incident, that they know he’s a good kid and they want to understand what happened.
  3. Give him a fresh start with new school, new teachers, new kids – where he can create a new story.

No child should believe he is a bad boy. Sure, he may make bad choices or behave badly at times – and he should be held accountable for those choices and behavior. But to allowing a child to believe they are “bad” is barely short of psychological child abuse. As a community, we need to support each other and our children by seeking first to understand and conveying that we see the image of G-d in everyone – and that image, and that child, is good.

Gentleman are taught

On How to Encourage Your Son to be a Gentleman, author Ken Myers provides six suggestions to teaching your preschooler how to act with good manners.

One of the suggestions is to realize that good manners start with compassion and empathy. Modeling compassion and empathy is critical and very hard. Our kids hear us when we make a comment about another driver. They hear us if we disparage a waiter or waitress. I find myself needing to remember that there are ears everywhere and everything I do is teaching my children. Treating people with respect and managing my own frustrations are among the most important things I can do to teach my sons how to be gentlemen.

University of DenverBut realistically, while I hope my husband and I are the most influential of my childrens' teachers, we are not the only ones.  We aren't even the ones with the most time with them during the week.  A lot of learning to be a gentleman (or a lady) will come from the expectations of their social circle. Our kids hear other people (kids) make comments about themselves.  Elementary school kids experiment with sarcasm and humor. It's not natural to expect that to stop. The question is how to teach your child the impact of their behavior and language while they are constantly exposed to other children doing exactly what I've conveyed (and teachers convey) is unacceptable. 

Columbia Business SchoolI've begun to believe that there is a role for honor codes.  Explicit. Articulated. Discussed. A code describing what is acceptable behavior for a group or class. A code that can provide a framework to discuss changes to the code and behaviors or words that may not fit the code. Honor Codes are visible. They go beyond behavior and into values and principles. The ones I see are about cheating.  

This is a good thing - but that doesn't cover what it means to be part of a honorable community.

But they are simple. Done well, they are short, memorable and  referenced constantly by students, teachers and parents. I see them in boys schools, military academies - but not frequently in co-ed or public schools. I'd love links to honor codes that are effective - does your school have one?

What do you think - how does the village teach children how to be well-mannered adults?