Raising Teens

a site for parents grappling with sanity

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Does your son wear Axe? Or does it wear him?

Axe has become a teenage boy’s rite of passage. If you have a son older than 12, you probably know what I’m talking about.

In some ways, you may be thankful for the body spray that has double intentions ( to smell good for the ladies/to mask the odor that boys emit). Of course, when your Axe-drenched son gets into your car smelling like he just walked out of a fragrance factory, you might not be as thankful.

I cracked up when I read this article because it hit home. I wanted to share it with all of you who I hope will enjoy it as much as I did:


What happens when a woman wears Axe fragrance for a week?


Dahlia Lithwick with one of her sons.
Dahlia Lithwick with one of her sons.



Probably if I had watched the commercials first, I would never have undertaken this whole stupid experiment.

Axe commercials? Awful. They are the media equivalent of the fragrance itself. I mean, naked ladies covered in tiny congruent triangles assault bemused middle managers. These are commercials that could have been made backstage at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, if angels really liked feathers in their strawberry milkshakes.

Nor did I come to Axe men’s fragrance by sniffing the air at the U.S. Supreme Court, which I cover. Me, I discovered Axe the usual way, through my 13-year-old nephew, for whom the whole prospect of a lifetime of boom-chicka-wah-wah is perhaps still too much to contemplate.

My own boys, at 8 and 10, are too young for Axe, or for fragrance, or for wah-wahs of any variety — or so I shall insist to myself until they are about 40. But after a single day at the beach in August, when they shared a bathroom with their big hockey-playing, Axe-scented cousin/hero, even the 8-year-old was smearing his small hairless self with the body wash, deodorant and spray cologne.

Dinners quickly became unbearable, with three Axe-drenched young people fogging up all tastes and smells. On it went, until the final weekend at the beach, when I found myself trapped in the shower with only a bottle of three-in-one Axe (shampoo, body-wash and conditioner). So I broke down and used it.

It was the most sublimely powerful fragrance experience of my adult life. Truly. After decades of smelling like a flower or a fruit, for the first time, I smelled like teen boy spirit. I smelled the way an adolescent male smells when he feels that everything good in the universe is about to be delivered to him, possibly by girls in angel wings. I loved it. I wanted more.

When I told my husband that I was planning to wear only Axe men’s products for an entire week, his answer was a foreshadowing of things to come: “You’re planning on wearing that stuff to bed every night for a week? Man. Axe really does work. It’s only been a few minutes and look, you’re already single again …”

It was hard to choose a fragrance. The Axe scents, to the extent that they differ, seem to be named after manly activities like mining or soldering. Ultimately I opted for Cool Metal (see: mining and soldering) in the body wash, shampoo and spray formulations.

What happens when a forty-something women walks around smelling like a 13-year-old boy? Mostly nothing. As it turns out, ours is a culture in which people don’t generally feel comfortable commenting on your scent, even when it is so powerful as to be causing climate change. So even if you apply Axe before a funeral — as I did — nobody is going to grab you by the arm and ask you to please leave.

I wore a heavy coating of it to a dinner party one night. Eliciting no response, even when I started helpfully jamming my neck into the other guests’ noses, I did learn from several mothers that the Wall of Axe (in which eight or more teen boys reapply Axe after phys ed, then stand in the stairwell together) has become so bad at some schools that it’s been banned.

The truth is, my experiment in smelling like an adolescent male for a week had only two significant consequences. One, I really did grow to love the fragrance. But two, and distinctly more important, both my kids were so embarrassed that they stopped using it within days of my initiating the experiment.

It turns out that there is some Freudian window in which smelling like your mom is so beyond contemplation that they wordlessly gave it up altogether. Indeed, they have both moved backward to the Suave Baby Shampoo, which is precisely where I would like them to stay, at least for a while.

And thus, drenched in the smell of rusting metal, we all take two steps away from the Axe years, the entitled years, the boom-chicka-wah-wah years, that are bearing down upon us too quickly.

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I am frustrated by my teen’s cell phone addiction

Last night I was TRYING to find out why my daughter was in such a grumpy mood. When I went into her room to speak with her, it was as if she could only sort of hear me.

She was tapping away on the keyboard of her cell phone. When I brought to her attention that I was next to her in person, trying to have a conversation, she told me she was tired and didn’t feel like talking. I told her she was being rude and stomped out of the room.

Ugh, the life of a 21st Century mom!

Apparently, my daughter’s world exists on the little screen in her hand and at that moment, she didn’t want to make me part of it. That’s what we’re up against, parents. Sure we have an addiction to our cell phones, too. But get prepared because our teen addiction to their phones is about to get worse. The next generation is doing almost EVERYTHING from their cell phones.

One in four teens are cell-mostly Internet users, according to the Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life Projects Teens and Technology 2013 report. Moreover, one in three middle school students use mobile devices to complete their homework.

Did you know most teens sleep with their phones nearby — some even with their phones under their pillows —  just  in case a friend contacts them. Experts say this “on call” status has come to reflect obligation, anxious need, and even addiction.

Teens who use their cell phones to text are 42% more likely to sleep with their phones than teens who own phones but don’t text.  Let’s be real, here. Most teens these days use their phones to text. Teens are supposed to text in the middle of soccer games, music lessons, lacrosse practice or  karate classes  — but I’ve seen them try!

It’s become even more challenging at my house to enforce rules that everyone shuts off cell phones and no one texts at dinner, even if it’s just two of us sitting down for pizza. Still, I’m hanging tough and enforcing dinnertime rules  and that sometimes makes me the bad guy.

Some parents are enforcing cell phone curfews — no cell use after a certain time at night.  One mom told me that for her son, telling his friends that his cell phone was shut off after 11 PM actually gave him an out.

I recently read about another mother who suggested that her teens tell friends that all cell phones will be unreachable during the night as they will be on a charger pad. When her daughter voiced worry about a friend who was having a difficult time and might need someone to call – the Mom validated the concern but invited her daughter to give their house number as an emergency back-up. We all know no kid is going to call the house phone these days!

I think our kids need downtime from their phones. They just don’t know they need it. So, it’s up to us parents, and that’s not an easy job.

We have provided our teens with a high-tech world of endless connectivity. Now, we have to teach them the value of disconnecting — especially when mom is in the room!

Parents, how are you handling your teen addiction to their cell phones  and the need for constant connectivity? Do you think we as parents should embrace the new normal or should we try to encourage our kids to turn off their phones more often?


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Does your teen worry about weight? Are you on the path to an eating disorder?



As a teen, I worried I was too thin. I know that’s the opposite problem of most teens but it was something I worried about ALL the time and became extremely self-conscious about.

Now, I see my teen son who is very thin worrying as well. He’s constantly trying to bulk up, which doesn’t come naturally for his body type. Watching him is making me concerned. I have a friend who just quit her job to “be there” for her daughter who stopped eating school lunches, then dinners, then breakfast. Though she seemed a normal weight, finally, she was hospitalized from exhaustion. My friend is distraught.

Coping with society’s pressure to be the perfect weight is a problem for teens — girls and boys. The scary part is that teens can have eating disorders even if they appear a normal weight or heavy.

We may not realize it, but we as parents play a big role in our teen’s obsession with weight. As a parent, I find myself encouraging my thin son to eat more and my less thin teen daughter to eat less. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Do you ever find yourself pushing your teen to eat more or eat less?

A new study shows parents’ attitudes toward dinner, and about food in general, can have a large impact on our teen’s eating habits.

The Journal of Adolescent Health finds that many teenagers have a negative attitude about food consumption learned from their parents. It suggests that parents should be involved in making sure their teen is eating healthy food, but they should avoid demanding how much he or she should eat or not eat.

Guess what parents? The study authors  fount it was the boys who reported more eating disorder symptoms from their parents.

The latest frustration for parents is that a dangerous teen obsession with the perfect body has gone viral. Apparently, teen girls are fixating on the “thigh gap”, in which slender legs, when standing with feet together, do not touch. It’s horrifying!

On Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook, “thigh gap” photos abound: close-ups of sometimes unbearably skinny legs published by young girls eager to show off their success – or bemoan what they see as a failure to whittle away fat.

How sad is that?

Making matters worse, right about this time of year, many schools today are sending home “fat” letters. They are weighing students and sending home reports about whether a child’s BMI (body mass index) is healthy or unhealthy. As many as 19 states are having schools conduct such weigh-ins, according to ABC News, and many doctors (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) say that such measures are a helpful tool in fighting childhood obesity.

But many parents are less sure. Many are not thrilled with the idea of their child being weighed in school. It can be particularly a problem for girls, who may feel stress about the number on the scale when they are being weighed alongside peers. About.com’s Katherine Lee has some interesting advice on how to handle a “fat” letter.

Here’s another big concern: Overweight and obese children and teens who lose weight are at significant risk for developing eating disorders, but their symptoms are often overlooked by parents and doctors. Yes, someone can be overweight and anorexic at the same time.

So, what can we do as parents to help our teen cope with society’s pressure to be the perfect weight?

Hireananny.org brought in an expert who makes these four recommendations: 

1. Don’t emphasize weight; instead, talk about health and strength.

2. Talk about eating disorders. In a technologically-advanced age where the Internet is readily available and awash in websites that actually champion eating disorders, it’s important that parents not shy away from these difficult subjects. Talk to your teen about  the real-life consequences of damaging bodies and minds in such a manner.

3. Think about the behavior you are modeling. Even at the tween or teen stage when your teen seems to think that you’re out of touch, she’s still watching you for cues and her world view is still being shaped by the behavior she observes from you.

4. Take advantage of everyday talking points. When you’re watching television with your teen, take the opportunity to talk about unrealistic images, the way that photographs are routinely doctored in order to make models seem perfect. With a girl, make sure she understands that her body is the vehicle that allows her to accomplish the things she wants to accomplish and is capable of amazing physical feats, but that the way it looks is not what defines her.

I’ve decided to back off from encouraging my son to bulk up or my daughter to exercise more. Experts say eating disorders, depression and self-esteem issues can all be a slippery slope that can be difficult to return from. 

Parents, how have you handled weight concerns with your teens? Do you think any discussion of weight leads down a bad path?

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Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Does your teen know the difference?

Recently I was talking  to my daughter about her procrastination on her homework, chores and work and she told me to stop getting on her and “stressing her out’. She said she has enough stress in her life right now and that I didn’t understand. I asked her “what stress?” She wouldn’t elaborate except that there’s a lot of pressure in school and soccer and with teens. She also said that some kids can’t handle it which is why they commit suicide.  In total shock, I asked yet another question, “what is SO stressful that taking your life is the ONLY solution?”

She responded, “mom, you won’t and don’t understand, the world now is not like it was when you were in highschool. Kids don’t have are under a lot of stress and pressure.”

I am still dumbfounded as to what can be so “stressful” for a teen? I asked her if she meant overwhelmed and she said, “what’s the difference?”. I said, “big difference, stress makes you feel worried and nervous and concerned and feeling overwhelmed is more like feeling very anxious and like you have no control of your life and as if you can’t breathe, too much for you to handle and it scares you.

She said, “yeah, that’s it…Overwhelmed!” I said welcome to LIFE! We all get that feeling a lot but it’s how you handle it that’s key. I told her that I could help her overcome that feeling and that it starts with first being organized,  asking for help and finding an outlet – exercise, listening to music etc.

I find myself wanting to relieve Olivia of the overwhelming  feeling but I know she needs to learn to cope with it and learn how to overcome it and deal with it because life only gets more hectic, crazy, uglier and messier and if she can’t handle it now she certainly wont when she’s an adult.

My concern NOW though is hoping these teens don’t end their lives because they didn’t know how to deal with that overwhelming feeling. Double edged sword at its best.

For now, I am taking it one day at a time with Olivia and am always  listening and asking how she is coping and what I or anyone can do to help. Sometimes breaking it down with someone helps, writing it down and crossing things off gives that mental feeling of accomplishment and one step closer to reducing the overwhelming feeling. Most important feeling they need to feel.. Loved and not alone.

How do your kids cope with stress or feeling overwhelmed? Always looking for good tips!

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Are we too close to our kids?

Just a few minutes ago, my daughter called from the parking lot of a restaurant. She was supposed to be inside at a birthday party for her friend. Instead, she was sitting in the car in a panic. “I don’t have a pen,” she said.

“So?” I answered.

“I need a pen. I need to write on the card.” I’m not sure if she wanted me to bring her one, but I didn’t give her the opportunity to ask. “Go inside and ask the hostess for a pen,” I said calmly. “But everyone is inside and they will see me.”

If I’d told my mom I didn’t  have a pen to write on a card when I was my daughter’s age, she would have been dead silent, a clear message to deal with it myself. But these days our kids tend to hold onto us with one hand, even as they reach into adulthood with the other. Like many parents, I’m much closer to my kids than I was to my own parents. But am I doing my kids a disservice by making them rely on me too much?

Ironically, my daughter recently told me I was treating my teenage son like a baby bird. She scolded me for packing a dinner for my son to take with him to a six-hour shift at work. It really made me think. I try not to be a helicopter mom, but should I be doing more to promote independence?

A new survey by AARP found parents today dole out twice as much advice and practical help to our kids as parents did in the mid-1980s. The message most of us parents have gotten is that we need to be involved parents.  But are we too involved?

Recently, a mother of adult children told me she read an article when her kids were young and posted it on her fridge. It was called, “How to Guarantee Your Children’s Happiness.” The key to their happiness, the article said, was teaching them to do things for themselves. The mom said the article triggered a strong reaction in her. She stopped scrambling to help her kids get out the door for school in the morning and insisted they get ready on their own. Today, she has three high-powered kids at the top of their professions.

Meanwhile, many parents struggle to support dependent adult kids. If I keep on being mama bird, am I setting myself up to be one of those parents whose adult children call home for help at every stage of life?

All I know is that as a parent of a teen who’s about to go off to college within a year’s time, I find myself conflicted. I want her to know how to do laundry, make her own meals, stick to a budget, and find her own pens. Teens should know how to do all of that. But at the same time, I’m fighting the urge to tell her: What’s the hurry to grow up? Take your time.

So, fellow parents, do you think we’re doing too much for our kids? Have you made any effort to make your teens more independent? Where do you think the line is between being involved and being too involved?


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Too much stress causing Teen Suicides?

It’s a new school year and I can’t believe almost 3 months to the day of the last teen suicide at my daughter’s high school, (May 21, 2013), another girl committed suicide on August 28th, 2013.

I am stunned at what seems to be an epidemic!

I asked my daughter how and why and her response was, “Mom, kids now a days have a lot of stress and they are depressed and they don’t know how to handle it since they can’t talk to their parents about it.”

She tells me most of the suicides are usually girls and that they have family problems at home. What I don’t understand is WHY? WHat type of stress is so big and horrible that the only answer is death? I argued with my daughter because I said, “What stress does your generation have that all previous ones did not?”  Then she replied, “Mom, you don’t get it, social media wasn’t around when you were in school. There is so much more teen pressure and stress. Kids can’t handle it and they get depressed and instead of getting help, telling their parents and going to a doctor for medication for it, they kill themselves.”

Are you kidding? So, if a teen can’t talk with his or her parents about something, this is their only way out?? I mean really?? Talk to a priest, a rabbi,  school counselor, anybody, a friend. Why can’t these teens talk to their parents? How did their parents not see something was wrong? I am worried now.

What is the face of suicide? Is it my daughter? Is it her friend? I mean it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s horrible.

Parents are scared. Now we have to worry if any little thing that upsets our children will push them over the edge? How did  we get here and how do we make it stop? How dark must it be for these kids that their ONLY solution is death?

We still don’t have details on how or why the young girl killed herself but my heart goes out to  her parents,  family and friends. Life will never be the same and they will never know what was so bad that their daughter, sister, cousin, friend took her life for it.

I would love for someone to respond to this and give me some insight on how to prevent this  teen suicide from getting out of hand? Am I scared? Heck yes. I am  very involved in my daughter’s life, but now this just makes me realize I need to keep being involved and keep an open line of communication.  But most importantly I need to establish trust. My daughter needs to be able to trust me with anything  — even if I don’t approve. I need to be her safe house. I may not like, or approve what she tells me, but I will listen and be there always.

So hug your kids a bit longer tonight because I am sure the parents of the two young girls who took their precious lives would give anything to hug their teen daughters one last time and never let go.


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How do you know if your teen is having sex?

I have often wondered with the way teenage girls are now a days- trying to be cool, trying to impress the boys, trying to be popular and older than they really are. They are  dressing provocatively and of course they think they know  more than anybody else. Then, there’s the issue of what age they having sex.

I know girls in my generation, Generation X , were having sex much later. But, I get a feeling  this Generation Y girls are having sex in middle school? I say that because my daughter told me that girls she knew were having sex in middle school. I was shocked and yet not surprised. I was also saddened by the fact that these young girls have allowed their virginity to be given to a boy like it was nothing. There are no filters any more whether it is TV, the internet, magazines etc. It’s as if sex is expected at a young age. What has happened to Generation Y? Sex in middle school really?

I know my Generation, Generation X, wasnt so casual with sex or taking pictures or videos and posting them as teens today are because we didn’t have all this technology. By why do we allow technology  to dictate morals and self-respect?

Does Generation X realize what their children in Generation Y are doing? Is it just easier to look the other way and chalk it up to being a teen? When do we step in and say ENOUGH? When do we take back technology’s way of taking away our privacy, our morals and self-respect and start raising our kids and teaching values?

I know its easy to blame technology but on the other hand, being a parent is also A LOT HARDER today than our parents had it. I know my mother says she could never raise a teenager now — too hard, she says. She sees how I struggle with my teen daughter. But,  I have to come to terms that I have to accept how Generation Y and soon  Generation Z  teen culture has become when it comes to sex.

I may not like it or approve but, by God, I will be involved in my children’s lives every step of the way. If that means having to get birth control pills or condoms, so be it. I may not condone it but I also am not stupid and have to realize safety first. Teens will go behind your back, so why not make sure they are prepared? Sticking your head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening doesn’t mean it isn’t. It SUCKS being a parent of a teen at times! It’s hard, frustrating and mentally draining but I know the reward at the end will be worth all the struggle.

So, how do we know if our teen is having sex? We don’t unless we get involved in his or her life. Again, I am appalled at the fact that teens are having sex in middle school, but I do know the only thing I can do is talk to my  daughter and soon-to-be teen son and educate them. I can try to help them understand that sex in middle school is just too young and not appropriate.

Will they listen? Maybe, Maybe not but,the key is to build that relationship with them and to be involved in their lives.


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Oh Miley Cyrus, what have you done?


I’m going to admit it. I used to watch Hannah Montana and I liked it.

Miley Cyrus was an adorable, wholesome Disney darling and seemed to have unlimited talent. I remember watching an Oprah interview with Miley years ago in which she talked about making the transition one day to become a young adult. Miley said she was grounded, unlike other teen stars and planned to make a smooth transition.

But then…..

If it wasn’t bad enough that she has been walking around for the last year with the most bizarre haircut, I watched in horror Sunday night as Miley pranced around the stage at the VMAs in the most bizarre outfit, making sexual and awkward moves that surely made her mother cringe as much as it did an audience full of musical talent.

For the last few days, the Internet has been abuzz with reaction.

Camille Paglia of Time Magazine wrote: Miley, Go Back to School. She blames Miley for artistically bankrupting music culture and asks, How could American pop have gotten this bad?

Paglia describes Miley’s performance this way:  Bopping up and down the catwalk in hair-twist devil’s horns and a flesh-colored latex bikini, Cyrus lewdly wagged her tongue, tickled her crotch with a foam finger, shook her buttocks in the air and spanked a 6-ft. 7-in. black burlesque queen.

My favorite reaction came from Lisa Belkin of The Huffington Post who wrote: Dear Miley: Here’s What I Hope You Learned About Adulthood After The VMAs.  In her letter to Miley, she says: “I hope you really weren’t trying to create this firestorm, because that would mean you believe too little in your talent and too much in the need for outrage as a marketing tool when you have so much else to sell. And I hope you aren’t crushed. This isn’t the end for you. There’s an upside to the annoying fact that all of us knew you as a child — it also means we think of you as ours, and we are more than willing to forget and move on.”

What scares me about the Miley “situation” is that she’s not all that different from other teens trying to prove themselves with attention seeking behavior. Unfortunately, Miley has a much more public platform to embarrass herself. 

The good news in the Miley mess is that teens are talking about it. My kids said it was the big conversation at school on Monday. Most teens were critical of Miley, they felt she had made a fool of herself. That gave me satisfaction. I don’t want my kids to be judgmental. But I do want them to recognize attention seeking behavior for what it is and to understand the message it sends — mostly a message of immaturity.

If I were Miley’s mom, I’d be having the same conversation with her that I’m having with my own kids. Everyone makes embarrassing mistakes. We’ve even had U.S. Presidents that have made them. But teens need to know it’s possible to recover from them. It’s how you own up to your mistakes and move on that shows the world that you really have matured.

You can do it, Miley, after all, it’s it you that sings “Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days…”



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My last “first day of school” with my teen

Today, I woke up extra early. I hovered over my two  teens with a camera in hand, wanting to snap a picture of them on their first day of the school year. For my daughter, a high school senior, this would be my last time doing this ritual.

With comforting predictability, I have always pulled my camera out on the first day to capture the newness of the year, before the homework struggles and complaints about teachers set in. It hasn’t always been easy to “be there” to capture the moment — some years it meant planning in advance to make sure work assignments don’t conflict.

Today, the annual lump in my throat seemed larger as I stood there at dawn watching my daughter get into the car with my son and drive off for high school,  leaving me in the driveway. I may have complained in the past about back to school jitters, but today, I realize how much I enjoy the events leading up to the start of a new school year — stockpiling lunchbox snacks, comparing the deals on new school supplies, choosing first day of school outfits.

Alone in the driveway, it hit me…

The day will come when I don’t have the back-to-school stress that comes from getting kids in bed earlier, digging up quickie family dinner recipes and organizing carpools to sports practices and after-school activities. Inevitably, all three of my kids eventually will leave their dorms to attend class without mom taking a photo. Inevitably, my work life balancing act will get easier. Now that I’m much closer to that reality, I’m not sure I want that to happen.

My camera just doesn’t feel ready.


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Are we teaching our kids the wrong thing? Why being nice counts for something…

We teach our kids to do well in school. We teach them to excel in sports. We teach them not to murder their siblings. But how much time and energy do we spend teaching them to be nice? Is it something we as parents even think is worth teaching? Are we caught up in the “nice guys finish last” theory?

I just read an article by Cindi Bigelow, CEO of Bigelow Tea in the Huffington Post. It really made me think about the messages I send my teens. Lately, I’m finding it really challenging to teach my teens about self-worth, confidence and honesty, particularly my daughter who is gaga over a boy for the first time. I feel like my time to teach my teens good character has become so short-term and exhausting.

Cindi Bigelow talks about what she looks for when she hires an employee and what she’s tried to teach her own children. She writes:



My list of what I want my kids to be is actually much longer than merely “nice.” In no particular order, I want them also to be:

• Caring
• Hard-working
• Balanced
• Fair
• Resilient

I also have a list of what I don’t want them to be. I don’t want them to feel “entitled” or be disrespectful. And I certainly don’t want them to have an “attitude.”

And how do I impart this important information to my kids? By “messaging” to them continually (maybe similar to how a company tries to advertise its products). This kind of steady repetition of values is essential in raising our children. “Say please and thank you.” “Hold the door.” “Be kind to your brother.” “Be friendly to the kid who doesn’t have any friends.” “Tell the truth even when it hurts.” “Learn how to say ‘I’m sorry.'”

And the good news is it works. I’ve seen the results.

Bigelow believes young people actually want to be nice and are concerned with the direction the country is taking. As a parent of teens, it’s hard to judge whether this is true. While most of my teens’ friends are polite to me, they’re not always “nice” to each other.

I agree with Bigelow that being nice can help you get ahead in life. I am hoping this “entitled” generation will figure that out as they head into their 20s….

Bigelow writes:

What I find so inspiring is that the younger generation is already wired for success and committed to traditional values like kindness and compassion and integrity. We just have to keep reinforcing that message and not let our society’s love of professional and material success overshadow the importance of being a good and decent person.

Readers, what are your thoughts? Has it becoming challenging for you as a parent to teach the importance of being nice when being selfish is completely acceptable? Do you think other parents consider the trait worth instilling in their teens?



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