Raising Teens

a site for parents grappling with sanity

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Are you a Spy Mom? What some moms have learned about their teens on Facebook



A few days ago, I noticed my son’s Facebook page was up on his computer screen and he had wondered off. My first thought: Opportunity had knocked, and I was going to take it!

Just as I was scrolling down, reading away and absorbing the 411 about what teens say online, my son came back and caught me. He immediately closed his laptop up giving me only enough time to take my fingers off the keyboard.

“What are you doing?” I screeched.

“You’re being nosey,” he replied and shooed me away, claiming he had online research he needed to do on his computer. Oh well,  I’ll just have to be nosey more covertly next time.

Clearly, Facebook has created a who new category of us nosey moms….just call us “Spy Moms.” We may complain about our teens social media addiction, but parents today have the opportunity to spy on our kids in way our parents never had (or maybe never needed?)

A new study by Education Database Online found that nearly half of all parents using Facebook joined so they could spy on their kids. Nearly three-fourths of parents check their children’s Facebook profiles more than four times a week.


This mom is stressed over the college thing




I never thought the day would come as a parent when I had sending my kids to college on my mind. I have one word to describe it — stressful!

All you have to do is say “college” and my brain starts to hurt!

First, I went on the in-state college tour with my kids over Spring Break. Then, last night I went to a college application process workshop at the high school. And, in between, I’m talking to parents whose teens are about to graduate and go off to college. My brain is about to explode.

I’m a mess and I’m excited at the same time. I made great friends in college and have wonderful memories. I feel like I graduated with a good education, too. I look at my daughter and I see a young lady who I know will enjoy becoming independent. But I want to be at a college where she’s happy and I want her to leave school ready to enter the real world with the right skills to get a good job — isn’t that what every parent wants?

Last night at the high school workshop, the presenter told parents: “The college process has never been so easy — or so hard!”

So much has changed since most parents went to college. Did you know 17 million students attended colleges last year. That’s a lot more than it was when I applied and it’s the reason that the college application process has become extremely competitive.

My daughter will be a senior, so I’m about to face round one with her: application deadlines and essay writing  UGH!

Over and over, I hear the same phrase from college admissions officer. Grades are important, so are test scores. But even still, your kid has to STAND OUT. It’s that third thing that stresses me out because it seems so subjective.

And then, comes the even harder part, being on the same page as your spouse about in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, taking out college loans and applying for scholarships and financial aid.

It seems like the whole thing takes sanity survival skills. I look around and I see lots of parents who survived – whose kids are not only getting into their colleges of choice, but also getting jobs when they graduate. Those parents, they’re my heroes.




9 Tips for Choosing the Right High School Classes

When it comes time to high school course selection, I turn into game show contestant, trying to guess the right answer. I really don’t know what colleges are looking for these days. If I tell my kids to ask their school guidance counselor, they laugh. “What’s so funny?'” I ask. “Guidance counselors are a joke,”  they tell me. Apparently, in a big high school like ours, counselors oversee hundreds of students and don’t really provide much guidance.

So today, when an email from International College Counselors hit my Inbox, I couldn’t wait to hear what the experts had to say. I found it so helpful that I wanted to share it with all of you.


9 Tips for Choosing the Right High School Classes 

If success in the college admissions process is important, then your student needs to choose the right classes.

The high school transcript is almost always the most important document in a student’s application. Keep in mind, though, rarely would there ever be one particular class on a transcript that would determine the   applicant’s outcome.

While there’s no 100% guaranteed future college admissions formula, there are some strong patterns for success.

Here are some tips to guide you:


1. Meet the high school requirements. High schools have a list of required credits that must be taken in order to graduate. Most colleges (online or other) require a high school diploma to enroll in any program that grants bachelor degrees.

2. Take a balanced set of classes. Typically, a student should try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language.

3. Choose a smart range of college-prep courses. A student doesn’t need to take AP Everything to get into college but course choice does depend on the selectivity of college a students wants to attend. Demanding and challenging honors, accelerated, AP, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) courses make a student more desirable to a school. However, colleges recognize a student can only take advantage of accelerated courses if her high school provides them. If AP courses or IB programs are not offered at a high school, colleges understand and only expect that a student will excel in the opportunities to which there is access. Colleges also understand different schools have different requirements that may restrict what courses a student can take.

4. Show colleges a positive pattern. Colleges like to see a high level (or an improving degree) of rigor and success   throughout a student’s high school years. This includes the senior year. Have   you heard this famous question: “Is it better to take a course where I   know I can get an ‘A’ or should I take a harder course and risk getting a   lower grade?” The answer is: “It’s best to get an ‘A’ in a harder   course.”  For those who find this answer unacceptable, we advise   students to take the higher course if the student thinks she can get a   “B.” Normally “C” or below means that a student is simply   in the wrong level. The key is that students need to seek challenge, not   avoid it, and succeed in the challenges chosen.

5.  Know the admissions guidelines for top choice   colleges.  Many colleges, especially the selective ones, have   specific admissions requirements for entering students, for example, a   foreign language requirement. It is best to research each school   individually.  Make sure your student meets any and all minimum   requirements.

6.  Pursue intellectual interests.  It’s OK to   take courses of a personal interest like filmmaking or fashion, just make   sure it is not at the expense of a schedule’s overall rigor. Honesty is very   important when a student is deciding between different courses. Is he or she   choosing drama because of a real excitement about it and the challenge it   presents, or is the motivation powered by a desire to avoid a different (and   perhaps difficult) academic subject?


7. Consider online and dual enrollment options.  Are you very   interested in physics but your school does not offer Physics C? Now, with the   internet and dual enrollment, students can take almost every class   imaginable! Be sure to check with your school prior to taking an online or   dual enrollment class to confirm credit will be accepted.

8.  Consult with teachers, a high school counselor and/or an expert college advisor on what courses are most appropriate. Some difficult decisions may also need   to be made about which courses to take and how to balance schoolwork and extracurricular activities.

9.  Do not catch Senioritis! Many admissions offices   will check an applicant’s senior year program and performance before offering   admission. Additionally, schools may rescind an acceptance if a student   performed poorly during the senior year.

Students who push themselves to excel all the way through high school, or show a trend of improvement are the type of student colleges welcome.  Colleges take “extra effort” to be a good sign that a student will do the same at their school.

About International College Counselors

International College Counselors provides expert college counseling on undergraduate and graduate college admissions, financial aid,   tuition, essays, and college applications to domestic and international students.      

 Click Here to Join our Mailing List



Teens believe they are going to change the world

Today I judged a prestigious contest for high school seniors. The most awesome part was talking to teens just months before they graduate from high school and head off to college. As I engaged them in conversation I noticed a theme — extreme optimism.

At least four of the teens told me straight out and quite convincingly that they are going to change the world. One said he’s going to do it through the video games he develops. Another is going to do it through the surgical skills she plans to learn and apply to those wounded in the military. Yet another plans to make films aimed at teaching self esteem and confidence to young girls. A friend of mine, a judge in another category, told me one of her teen candidates declared she’s going to change the world when she becomes a Supreme Court Justice.

It could be very possible that one or all them change the world.

But as a parent of teens, the experience made me think that I should capture my kids on video tape right before they graduate high school. It’s the time of one’s life when the world seems so promising and optimism is at its peak. If I had videoed myself just a few months prior to high school graduation, what would I have said and how would I have expressed myself? I think it would be enlightening to watch.

If you have a teen about to graduate, whip out that video camera, ask him or her some questions about the future and let it roll. A decade from now, your child might say the same thing on video, but definitely not with the same wide-eyed sense of excitement they would right now. I guarantee both of you will enjoy watching it together one day in the future — especially if they do change the world!


Teflon Teens

You get to a point sometimes that no matter what you tell your teen or how you tell them  it ain’t sticking, like teflon. They will do what they want, when they want and how they want. How do we stop or control this?

How many times can you tell your teen to:

1. Clean your room

2. Put your clothes away

3. Do your homework

4. Be home by curfew

5. Be careful when you’re out

6. Be safe, make smart choices

7. Don’t drink or do drugs

and the list goes on and on.

I find myself helpless that I can’t get through to my daughter no matter what.  So what can I do? Keep at her and never give up? Give up and just let her do what she wants, she will anyway? Is there an answer? I don’t know. Do you? Does anyone?

I do know that I, not like teflon, will stick by her and hope that something, anything that I have told her over and over has sunk in and stuck.

So until then, I wait, hope, breathe, exhale and repeat.


What do Dan Marino, Arnold Schwarzenegger and my son have in common?


Almost on a weekly basis, I talk about condoms with my son.

I tell him, “rain or shine, wear your raincoat.” My son thinks my condom crusade is hilarious. He doesn’t have girlfriend, he’s only 15, and he says he hasn’t had sex so he finds this obsession of mine to be “ridiculous.”

I may be crazy, but as parent, I feel my window of opportunity to make an impression on my son is now. Catching a your teen at the right time in the right mood to absorb your words of wisdom is a huge challenge. You need to be physically and mentally being there at that rare moment when your teen wants to talk or listen.

My recent obsession with “the condom talk” came about from the NBC show Parenthood. I love that show and one of the characters, Drew, reminds me a lot of my teenage son. A few episodes ago, Drew, who is still in high school, got his girlfriend pregnant. It was torturous to watch him visibly upset and waiting around while his girlfriend decided how she wanted to handle the situation.

It made me realize that should my son decide not to wear his raincoat one night, for whatever reason, he has absolutely no say in the life-altering decisions that follow. That comes with the territory of being male.

Football great Dan Marino has learned this the hard way. So has Arnold Schwarzenegger. So has John Edwards. All are fathers to children they had while married to another woman. Whether they were intentionally trapped by these women who preyed on their wealth and stature, we will never know. What we do know is that their mistakes have cost them dearly.

What does their situations say to our sons? What can we teach them from this? Everywhere you turn in the news these days there is some high profile man being accused of lying or cheating in sports, in business or in life. When the news leaks, and they finally come clean, they apologize and say they made a big mistake.

When my kids are caught doing something wrong, they usually respond,“But everyone else was….” There is a reason generations of parents have dished out that famous line, “If all your friends were jumping off a bridge would you do it, too?”

But somewhere along the line of growing up, we mature and realize that “everyone is
doing it” is not a logical argument and that avoiding mistakes takes smart split-second decision making in the heat of the moment. That’s not easy, especially for teens.

Like most parents, I have worried about a lot of things as my kids have grown up — from their playground antics to their Facebook antics. Watching them step out into their own lives and make their own decisions and mistakes might be the hardest part.

When the news broke yesterday about Dan Marino’s extramarital affair and his love child, I jumped on the chance to use Dan’s story in my condom crusade, making it dinner table conversation. I’ve accepted that my son may think I’m crazy mom — at least right now.  But if my voice can creep inside my son’s head, and guide his thinking when the brain turns off and the hormones or alcohol kicks in, then all my efforts to be present as a parent will have paid off.

Parents, how do you approach finding the right time and right method to drive a point home with your teens? What news events have you used as your teaching moments?


What would you do if this was your daughter?

For several days now, I’ve been upset by a story my kids have told me and I want to get some other parents thoughts.

Here is what happened:

Last weekend, a bunch of kids were at a house party and were drinking. One girl named Emily got drunk and decided to go out on the crowded patio and give her ex-boyfriend oral sex on a lounge chair. Immediately, another teenager whipped out his cellphone and videoed it. He forwarded the video to friends, who forwarded the video to more friends.

It took only about two days for thousands of teens to have seen the video. It not only spread to students at the high school the girl attends but it also made its way to kids phones at two other nearby high schools. The video became so talked about that several of my daughter’s teachers knew about it and discussed it in class. One of my daughter’s teachers urged those who had it on their phones to delete it and told them they could get in trouble for disseminating child pornography.

My daughter was really upset about this whole incident and feels extremely sorry for the girl. My son’s take is different — he called the girl a slut, said she shouldn’t have been doing what she did in public, even if she was drinking. He pointed out that it’s almost an expectation today that anything stupid you do will be videoed by your peers.

A few days after the party, kids from a rival school showed up at a high school basketball game with a sign that said your school sucks and so does Emily. We all know that teens can be VERY mean.

Regardless how you look at this incident, I think it’s horribly sad.  Teens by nature are immature and make mistakes…but now their mistakes are soooo public. Could you imagine what it would have been like to have your teen mistakes caught on video?

I can’t imagine how this girl is going to  shake off the reputation she now has earned.  It’s likely it will  even follow her to college unless she leaves the state.

My daughter also was upset that no one has even mentioned the boy’s name or revealed his identity, only the girl.  I explained to her that unfortunately, that’s how it is and has always been in our society.

My kids have heard that the girl has been tweeting to urge her peers to back off. I really hope this girl is strong enough to withstand the taunting.

How would you handle this situation if you were the girl’s parent?

You might be inclined to preface your answer by saying your daughter would never do something like this but I’m sure Emily’s mom would have said the same thing.

If Emily were my daughter, I think I would get her into counseling pronto. For the rest of us, maybe it’s an opportunity to acknowledge that we live in the digital age and discuss actions and consequences with our kids.



Have you failed as a mom if your teen can’t talk to you?

Recently my daughter and I were texting back and forth and she texted something that kinda hit nerve and kinda hurt. Basically, she was telling saying she couldn’t talk to me.  I was shocked! I thought I was “talking” with her and listening. Apparently not.

Here is what her text said: “Why can’t I talk to you like kids can talk to their parents and they are actually good parents. But, you are a whole different story, yes you do a lot with me but you don’t do enough. If I can’t talk to you, you are not a mom, you failed at being a mom if your own daughter can’t even talk to you. How do you think that makes me feel?”

WOW! How do you think this text made me feel?  It was like ice water hitting me in the face, shocking and painful. Have I failed her? Have I failed at being a mom? Nothing in this world means more to me than that.. BEING A MOM.

I took a deep breath before I responded because my defensive mode kicked in and I knew that listing everything that I have done for her and how I have been there for her would be moot. That’s not how she sees it and she won’t get it, why waste arguing via text back and forth. Nothing will be gained.

I guess the things she needs to “talk” to me about she hasn’t been able to for fear I will get upset and not understand. I took this text as an opporunity, an opportunity to get close to my teenage daughter. She is telling me  “Mom, I want to be able to talk to you. Please listen and don’t judge me.” Well, I knew if I was going to be the mom she needs me to be for her I would need to listen better and really hear what she’s saying and most importantly, not judge her.

So, I texted her back and told her that I’m sorry she felt she couldn’t talk to me. I thought she could. I told her I would try to listen and not judge but I need the same in return from her. Hey, it’s the first step right? No one said it was going to be easy.

I have said to Olivia that being a mom did not come with instructions so I will make mistakes, big and small ones. We all do. So, I asked her to be patient and cut me some slack.  I may not be the best mom, but I am ALWAYS here for you and no one will love you as much as I do.

Will keep you posted on  how the “talking” goes.

Drinking, driving, teenagers and New Year’s Eve

My teenage daughter wants to go to a party at a friend’s house tonight. I’m stuck in a bad position because I’m certain that tonight, of all nights, a teen party will include alcohol. So, should I let her go?

It’s not the drinking I’m worried about as much as the drinking and driving. If I let her go, she will either have to drive herself home after midnight (which means breaking the driving curfew of 11 p.m. and promising not to drink even a sip)  or she will have to get a ride with a friend (who may or may not have been drinking).  Another option is I would have to venture out late at night to pick her up. Not one of those scenarios is appealing.

Ugh! It sure was simpler when I didn’t have to worry about the alcohol factor and when my kids still thought hanging out with mom and dad was cool!

It seems more parents these days are giving into the notion that their teens are going to drink at parties, regardless of being under legal drinking age.

The New York Times reports:

In a national study of 11th and 12th graders commissioned by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions, nearly half of teenagers said they were allowed by their parents to go to parties where alcohol was being served. While it’s possible to be of two minds about the legal drinking age, few parents are ambivalent about the question of teenagers drinking and then getting behind the wheel. They are totally against it!

But teens are doing it. In that same study, more than one in 10 students reported driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs after New Year’s Eve. What can you do to make sure that one in 10 who is drinking and driving isn’t your kid?

Here’s some advice from an expert:

Recognize that some teenagers will be drinking at parties and renew your promise to pick up a child anytime, anywhere, no questions asked., says Dave Melton, managing director of global safety for Liberty International and an impassioned advocate for keeping young drivers safe. Mr. Melton.  “It’s not a matter of getting angry,” Mr. Melton said. “It’s a matter of getting them home.”

The same study found a number of positives: a majority of teenagers said they would stop drinking and driving if asked by a passenger, or would speak up and tell an impaired friend not to drive. Melton says  parents need to encourage teenagers to act on those good intentions.

Here’s what I plan to tell my daughter about getting a ride home tonight or any night:  Assume any driving friend who has had even a small amount to drink (or used other substances) isn’t safe to drive even if they think they are okay.  That assumption can be a matter of life and death this New Year’s Eve, and any other night as well. Now, I just have to figure out how to deliver this message without it sounding like a lecture!

No one said this parenting stuff was easy. Wishing you and your teens a safe and happy new year!

Are tough AP classes worth it for your teens?

The debate about whether to take AP classes in high school goes on in homes around the country. It goes on in mine EVERY time my kids have to do course selection.

Both of my teens take AP classes in high school. I encourage them to do it, mostly because I feel like they have to if they want to get into their college of choice. I never took a single AP class in high school. Often, I wonder how this whole craziness got started…how did we get to the point where our kids have so much academic pressure on them in high school?

Even more, do teens really need to take AP classes to get into a state college or just the Ivies? Is the pressure in high school really necessary?

An recent article in The Miami Herald caught my attention: Are tough Advanced Placement classes worth it for Florida high school students? The article takes a hard look at the AP madness. Here’s one conclusion I completely agree with: The college-level program used to be known as a VIP program for elite students. Now it’s more about open access. If you want to take an AP course, you can even find one online at a virtual high school.

While this AP pressure goes on in other states too, in Florida the state pays for kids to take the AP exam, teachers get a bonus if their students pass the exam, and  the number of students in AP courses — which cover more than 30 subjects — has nearly tripled over the past decade.

What’s the real point of AP classes? I’ve always thought it was to prepare our kids for college. To me, the most interesting discovery in the article was that even after taking AP classes, some students said the rigor of college was a shock. They felt they weren’t prepared.

Of course, a big upside of AP classes in high school is financial. If you take enough Advanced Placement classes, you can potentially graduate from college a semester or even a year early. For a student who isn’t receiving financial aid, it can save tens of thousands of dollars.

My kids are always talking about friends or teens they know who have gone overboard with taking six or seven AP classes at the same time to raise their GPA higher and stand out. To me, that’s insane!

The crazy part is with the AP madness, admission rates to the country’s premier liberal arts colleges have never been lower, according to an article in The Boston Globe.

Here’s are quotes from admissions officers from the Boston Globe article. ”

Six AP classes overall is ample to prepare a student well for college, says the College Board’s Trevor Packer. Packer, who bases that number on one researcher’s conclusion, says, “I don’t like it when I hear that a student is choosing a 10th AP course instead of doing an extracurricular activity.”

Lee Coffin, Tufts’ dean of undergraduate admissions, suggests using the selection of AP classes to create what he calls an “intellectual fingerprint.” Students who are passionate about history, for instance, can take AP history to explore the subject and have success in the course documented on their record.

“It’s things in moderation,” says Kevin Kelly, director of admissions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “My rule of thumb here is to get good grades in good courses.”

So parents, I guess it’s up to us to know whether AP classes are worth it for our kids and how many they can handle at one time.

What do you think about the AP madness? Do you encourage or discourage your kids to take AP classes?


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