A bed of quicksand

quicksand

Do you ever have those mornings, when your alarm goes off and you have the best of intentions to hit the gym or catch-up on emails before the steady thrum of activity that consumes you’re every being when the kids wake-up begins and-you-just-can’t-pull-yourself-out-of-the-comfy-confines-of-your-soft-warm-bed…

Yeah, I know the feeling.

One night with my puking son

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Look, I remember being a kid and feeling like the world was stacked against me in moments like this. It’s easy to deflect the hurt and pain onto someone else and the most obvious target is the one who is looking after you. They are listening already to your aches and pains so it’s only natural to be completely honest about how you want to feel better.

What this episode did reinforce is how much I appreciated my mom and dad doing this kind of thing for me. I’m not sure I ever thanked them enough so I’ll just bank this as a pay it forward kind of thing.

Screenagers. A lesson in digital citizenship and irony

screenagers

Screenagers is a documentary film by Delaney Ruston that is currently making the rounds across North America. “Growing Up in the Digital Age” is the subtitle and the film covers a range of topics that include but aren’t limited to, gaming, social media and the pressures associated with it, addiction, digital citizenship and the role of screens in the lives of families. It clocks in at an hour and six minutes which was a bit long in the opinion of my teenager, but does a decent job of presenting some of the challenges facing teens and their parents when it comes to understanding the relationship we have with devices. I’d encourage you to see it should it be screening in your area. Please check out the following link for more details: Screenagers: The Movie

I brought my kids with me (kids 18 and under are free) and while they were reluctant at first (“Geez dad, will there even be any other kids there?” – there were), in the end they both felt it was worth while. The biggest take aways for us actually came from a panel discussion that happened after the screening. In it, we learned about the concept of “Goldilocks” – the notion that there can be too much screen time, too little and some that is just right. This amount will of course vary from family to family depending on their values but my kids liked this idea that there could be a happy medium. I fully support this notion. I work in an industry that creates content for screens, and my business was boosted when the iPad and like models came out opening up a whole new avenue for storytelling, so while I have a vested interest in content development I also don’t want screens to take over my kid’s lives. I’d prefer to have discussions with them about developing strategies to help them gain control of their usage and how to be good digital citizens rather than characterize screens as dangerous and addictive. Probably the best part of the whole experience was the talk we had on the drive home. Here are the ideas that stuck with us the most:

  • There can be a happy medium of screen usage and it’s up to kids and their parents to discuss this together
  • Self control takes practice and we as parents are there to help
  • One of the film’s experts, Laura Kastner, talked about the idea of high school students being “under programmed”. She quoted a stat that 40% of teens don’t have after school programs and are turning to screens to fill their time
  • Fake Likes. I had no idea what this was but my teenage daughter explained it to me. She pointed out that this can be better managed by making one’s online profiles private thereby restricting comments to people you know.
  • Parents need to take a look in the mirror and examine their screen time usage. Do you take your phone into the bathroom with you? Do you look at it as soon as you wake up? Right before you go to bed? Guilty…
  • The irony that we were watching a film about screen usage on a screen and that we were being asked and encouraged to post our thoughts online and to respond to questions and ideas, through our screens

If nothing else, this film provided another opportunity to discuss this subject together. I don’t know what is right or wrong, I’m not sure anyone does, but based on our family’s values we will continue to make decisions that support what we believe in. Perhaps the most important thing we can offer our kids when it comes to screen time is an open, non-judgemental door to talk.

Teenage daughters and water bills

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Yes, we’ve reached that glorious time of life where our daughter luxuriates in long, drawn out hot showers. Somehow, her brother is always in desperate need to brush his teeth when she is showering, but to be fair to him, it can be a bit of a wait. While I’m not so sure he actually cares about the water bill, I do believe it was a crafty move on his part to steer the conversation in a financial direction in an effort to jolt me into action in support of his dental hygiene needs.

Say goodbye to the taxi driver role

self-driving-minivan

Raise your hand if you’re exhausted from shuttling your kids to and from school, playdates, after school activities, sports events…. the list never ends. I recently created a spreadsheet to share with a couple of other families in an effort to share the load in an attempt to alleviate that last minute anxious texting and calling. It’s sorta working…

Well, our friends in the auto industry are bringing us the future and it’s looking good. At the Consumer Electrics Show in Las Vegas Chrysler unveiled an electric, self-driving minivan that could completely eliminate the taxi dad and mom roles. Just imagine yourself grabbing another hot drink and picking up your book while the “Portal” whisks your kids to dance/ski/soccer/music/daycare/school… Ok, maybe it’s not quite like that but we taxi parents can dream, can’t we?

The “B” word and the cloak of strength

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“I’m sorry to use this word dad, but some of my friends are being real “b” words. I’m just so upset because I’m being treated so badly and I don’t know what to do.”

It’s 11:00 at night and my daughter, in tears, can’t sleep because she’s going through the day’s unpleasantness in her head over and over again. Being a 13-year isn’t easy. Knowing how to respond to “death glares”, being ignored, being subject to nasty comments whispered loud enough to knowingly be heard, these make the growing up experience even harder. Not having a bestie, someone there who can help deflect the meanness and provide the kind of comfort only a true friend can, must be terribly isolating. I can only imagine what this makes going to school feel like.

The challenge for me is that as a man I can’t fully appreciate what she’s going through. Growing up as a boy wasn’t without it’s difficulties in relationships but my recollection was that we swore at one another, maybe scuffled a bit, and then five minutes later were back to doing what we were doing. It wasn’t ever really psychological or manipulative. It was in your face and you dealt with it and moved on.

A great friend of mine warned me that grades 7, 8 and 9 can be the toughest on girls and so far that prediction has proved true. Finding one’s place in the social structure of a school or a community is inherently a daunting process. There are strong personalities, weak ones, and indifferent ones. Some people are incredibly sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings while others don’t care. Some just lack an emotional intelligence. This isn’t unique to 13-year-old girls by the way. Many adults, male and female, go through this. I’m not sure my saying so helped my daughter. Growing up, I told her, doesn’t make it easier. Growing up provides us with a set of experiences to reflect on and use in situations that we’re facing in the present or will face in the future. As hard as what she’s going through now is, I believe her reactions to it and the learning she takes from it will shape her behavior and her response to conflicts as a young adult and beyond.

All this was very nice but what she really wanted was a solution. I told her I didn’t know the answer to solve this problem but that I could, at that moment, think of two responses she could try. The first is to confront her friends directly. I suggested that rather than saying, “Why are you being so mean?” she try, “The way you’re acting towards me really hurts me. Why are you treating me this way?” A head on approach doesn’t beat around the bush and it puts all the cards on the table. I warned her that the response she gets might not be what she wants to hear but that putting it out there affords the other party the opportunity to come clean with their behaviour.

The second option I could think of was to put on what I dubbed “the cloak of strength”, an invisible drapery of confidence that would very clearly show those who were mean to her that their words and actions couldn’t hurt her. Of course she was hurt but sometimes people knowingly do mean things because they want to elicit a response, they want to see another person shrivel. If my daughter could let the words bounce off of her, put on a smile and simply remove herself from the situation with her head held high, there would be a good chance that those who were looking to knock her down would notice this. I advised her that in this case they might re-double their nasty efforts which for a time would make things even worse but that eventually that person’s friendship really wouldn’t be worth salvaging or that person would come to appreciate my daughter’s strength and would see the value in having a person like her as a friend.

As we sat in a tight embrace on the couch, damp Kleenex around us but eyes now dry, she took a thoughtful moment to digest her options. Her shoulders relaxed, a faint smile appeared and she said, “Thanks Dad. I feel more comfortable with option two and I’ll try it out tomorrow.”

I tucked her back into bed, kissed her forehead and told her that she had more strength than she probably knew. I don’t know if what I said was the right thing but I do know it was what I believed. Parenting, as I’ve said before, is the hardest and worst paying job in the world. It’s also the best. We just have to be able to find the good parts because they are there, even in the moments that feel the darkest.

Bedtime jobs- know your role…

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