Raising Teens

A site for parents of teens striving for sanity

Walking My Son Back Into Marjory Stoneman Douglas After the Mass Shooting


students return to MSD

As a mother of a 16-year-old son who attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a mass shooting took place on Valentine’s Day,  the last week has been a struggle to come to terms with all that has happened.

It is Sunday, February 25th at 3:30 p.m. and it is time to walkover to Stoneman Douglas so my son, Matthew, can pick up his backpack that he left in the classroom the day of the shooting. I haven’t really blogged much about the shooting,  except for Matthew’s text he sent me during the tragedy. I haven’t really had one second, one minute to myself because I have been involved in  all the community has been doing.. funerals, vigils, walks and grief counseling and trying to process all of this.


It is still surreal.

I have tried to be extra sensitive, patient and comforting to Matthew, to make sure he is okay,  but he’s not and I don’t know when he will be.  Just when I think he is okay, I see him lash out at me for something small.  Yesterday,  on our way to the high school for the first time after the shooting, he  walked ahead of my husband and I at fast pace.  We kept calling his name, but he had his headphones in to tune out the world. I don’t know Matthew was walking at such a fast pace because he wanted to see the school, which he hadn’t since the shooting,  or he just wanted to get this over with.  He was cold towards me, angry, mad and he did not want to talk. As I was walking behind him, all I could see was a little boy who once couldn’t bear to leave my side.   As mothers, we want to protect our kids and keep them safe and happy. So, when will Matthew be either one of those? I can’t control everything and that scares me. What I could control  was not getting upset because Matthew wasn’t acting how I wished he would. I kept telling myself, give it time, be patient, just love him and be there for him no matter how he treats you or lashes out at you.

As we walked toward the school, nothing fazed Matthew. He walked with determination, even as he passed the memorials crowded around by parents and students.  He didn’t even look once. It was pandemonium. I saw angels to honor the victims, flowers, music, praying, news media.. it was crazy!

angels to honor Parkland shooting victims


We realized the administrators were making us walk all the way around to the senior parking lot entrance, which was right next to the 1200 building where the shooting happened. I couldn’t believe it. I have never entered the school this way but, I am sure they had their reasons. I noticed they had fenced in the 1200 building and displayed beautiful banners from schools all over the county and state, as well as local community businesses,  which offered words of encouragement. But I couldn’t help and look at the 1200 building and think, “all that horror happened in this building that I am looking at right now. How can this be real?”

Oh, but it was.

We got to the school  entrance and we followed  Matthew to his classroom. I asked him to show us where he was when he heard the shooting. He explained that when there  is a fire drill, the kids go in a different direction, they need to go to the nearest exit, which is the reason he was where he was. He was going down the stairs and he saw people running all over and saying, “It’s a code red, go back,” and then he heard the gunshots.  He quickly ran back up the stairs to the nearest classroom, TV production.  It was there that he and 54 students crammed into a small back room with their teacher, Mr. Eric Garner. We went in the room and Matthew went to the back room and picked up his backpack.

My husband Scott and I went over to Mr. Garner and shook his hand and said, “Thank you. Thank you for keeping our son and all the other kids safe.” I attached an article that was in the local paper about Mr. Garner. Matthew said Mr. Garner moved the bookcase to keep all the students safe.

We left the classroom and started to head back home. The mood in the school was good. Kids needed to be around  their friends and teachers to start to heal together. I saw the Coral Springs Fire Rescue walking, and I patted one rescue worker on the back and said, “Thank you. Thank you for all you did and what you continue to do.” He looked at me with such appreciation.

As we started to leave the school, Matthew again was walking quickly with a purpose — to get home fast. I figured I wasn’t going to catch up to him and I would meet him at home, so  I stopped at the memorial site of victim, Joaquin Oliver, who was the son of a sweet friend of mine. I placed a white flower, that was handed to me when I walked into the school onto the many flowers that were there. I turned around and surprisingly, I saw Matthew  walking towards me. He asked, “Where did you go?” I told him I wanted to place a flower on Joaquin’s memorial site.  At that moment, I realized, he really did care if I was behind him. He didn’t care if I wasn’t next to him, he just needed to know I was watching his back. I took a deep breath and smiled because I was grateful … “Mommy will always have your back Matthew, always.”

When your teenager is afraid to go to school


father and teen


Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a mom who gets paid by the hour. A few hours into her workday, the women’s daughter had called from her high school experiencing anxiety and asked mom to pick her up early. “I just can’t walk to my class in the portable,” she told her mom. “I’m too scared. I just can’t.”

This family lives about 30 miles away from Parkland. In Florida, news of the Parkland shooting has been non-stop. Not only is it on television, in print and on the radio, but social media has made the images and fears real for many high school students.

This mom told me she felt conflicted.   She worried that by picking her daughter would lead to repeat behavior. But at the same time, she understood her daughter’s fear. That same morning, my husband had told me about his co-worker whose daughter felt too anxious to go to her high school. This mom had also had to pick her daughter up early from school. She decided to take her daughter to a therapist.

For teenagers in Florida, and probably the rest of the country, this shooting is scary, particularly because social media makes it very real. Within minutes after the Parkland shooting, my son knew every detail. Through group text messages and Snapchat posts of his friends at the school, he knew what was happening in real time, even before the news stations arrived. The experience taught me as a parent, today’s teenagers are informed in a way we never imagined they would be. They well aware of the horrific events going on, including the gory details, whether or not we want them to know.

Around the country, there have been threats at numerous other high schools in the aftermath of the shooting. The police are on high alert, but parents are left trying to figure out how to keep our kids nerves calm and what to do when a teenager is too afraid to go to school, or stay there once they arrive.

I consulted parenting expert Harry H. Harrison, author of several best-selling parenting books including Father to Son and Father to Daughter.

Q. How do you handle a teenagers real fear of going to school and being shot?
A. First, make sure your teenager knows the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is in jail.  Next, talk to them about what to do in a shooting situation like this. You want to give them skills to handle an emergency situation so they feel empowered.
Q. Should you let your teenager stay home from school if you see he or she is  experiencing anxiety?
A. If they miss school one or two days that’s understandable. But they have to face their fears. It’s part of being an adult and the adult world is filled with good and bad situations. We want to raise our kids to be successful in an adult world that can be strange and cold.  My message is you are not raising a 13 or 14-year old, you are raising a future adult.  It’s the perfect time to give your kids courage that they can face their fears.  You want to raise kids to face the adult world and unfortunately this is the world now.  Teach them what to do if a shooter walks into their school. Give them skills to handle the situation. It’s not time to retreat. It’s time to be courageous and go to school.

Q. What would you say to the parent whose teenager now wants to be homeschooled?

A.  Anything that delays maturation of a teen is a bad idea. If you let them stay home because they are afraid , when are they going to get over it?  After their senior year, when they still don’t have enough strength to face the world?

Q. Should parents initiate conversations with their teens about the shooting?

A.  Parents should ask, “What think about what’s going on in Florida?”  If your teen says “that crazy guy did something awful” and walks off, there is no use filling his brain with fear. If  he wants to talk about it, talk about it. Between ages 15 and 18 teens get reassurance from talking about things. When they are  younger they just want to know if they are safe. I wouldn’t force to them to talk about the shooting, especially if they don’t’ seem scared, but it is okay to say “I am here to talk if you need to.”

Q. Should you encourage your teenager who is afraid to go to school to get involved in the action some Florida teenagers and Parkland survivors are initiating?

A. Yes. This can be a huge lesson in courage. Encourage them to participate in rallies and demonstrations… everything but back out of the world and retreat in fear.

Q. What if parents are fearful? Should they hide it from their teenagers?

A. The best thing a parent can do is go into a room and come out when they are calm to talk to their teenagers. If they are scared to death, their teen will be scared to death. If they are calm and collected, the odds are their teen will be too.  It’s incumbent on parents to not be so terrified they can’t be there for their child.
For more tips on talking to your teenager about school safety and gun violence, this video on Cheddar.com with Parents Magazine editor should help:


Harry H. Harrison Jr
Parenting Expert

How to Parent a Teenager Whose Personality Differs From Yours

As parents, we recognize how each of our children are different, or similar. Sometimes our personality is so different from our child’s that it is challenging to relate. So, when Jeannette Rivera-Lyles proposed an blog post on raising an introvert, I LOVED the idea. As a mom, I have struggled with how to relate to an introvert. Jeannette tells us her experience and brings in an expert. I think you will enjoy her post.


parenting an introverted teenager

Jeannette and her two teenage sons




Your Teen’s Introversion is Just Who He is, Embrace it

By: Jeannette Rivera-Lyles

If you are parenting an introverted teenager, chances are you often feel like you’d do better if you could read minds or even tea leaves. Either one could offer more insight into what’s going on inside his head than asking “How are you?”.

I know it because if have an introverted 15-year-old son, James. He spends lots of time in his room drawing or playing in his computer, prefers to socialize with a small group of friends, and often can be a complete enigma as he is not one to verbalize his thoughts regularly.

At times, I have been worried about him. I have feared the possibility that his behavior may stem from depression or insecurity. But for the most, though, he seems happy, is caring, eats and sleeps well, and is a good student who stays on top of an overwhelming amount of homework. So, I reached out to my friend Dr. Kathy McHugh, an Orlando-based licensed psychologist who treats adolescents, to help me sort out what is going on.

Here’s the takeaway from Dr. McHugh:

  1. Introverts draw their energy from solitude. They are depleted by too much external stimulus and thrive in reflection and solitude. By contrast, extraverts’ energy is increased by spending time in busy, stimulating places often with lots of people. Understanding this difference is key. Resist the urge to force your introvert teen out of his room or to make him socialize more than he wants. “Wanting to be alone isn’t the same as withdrawing, which could be a sign of depression,” Kathy said. “If he has dinner with the family, comes out to watch a TV show with his siblings and participates in family activities, he’s not withdrawing but seeking time alone. This is how an introvert decompresses and recharges.”
  2. Do not try to change an introvert. This is not a phase, it’s who they are. Let them know you respect that. There’s a false notion that a healthy teenager is only the one who socializes regularly, has tons of friends and is involved in many activities. This just isn’t true, Kathy explained. “It is just as fine to be a reserved person, who enjoys introspection, and prefers to have just a few friends with whom to share meaningful connections,” she said.
  3. Allow an introvert to decompress first before attempting conversation. When she arrives home from school, after hours with hundreds of kids and loud hallways, she’s likely craving time alone. This may not be the best time to start asking questions. Your introverted teenager may be more responsive if you engage her in conversation after she’s had some time alone. And when she opens up, don’t interrupt while she’s talking.
  4. Be aware that intelligence, wisdom and success aren’t exclusive to extraverted personalities. Some of the most successful introverts in history include Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling and Meryl Streep, according to Inc. Magazine.

A teenager’s introversion may be problematic at times for me and you as parents, but not for the teen. I have learned to be patient, take the time to look at things from my son’s perspective. To do this, we may need to allowing our teen to spend more time secluded in his room. My son, like many other introverts, see his room as a peaceful haven. I’ve learned that it is okay for him to spend extended periods of time behind closed doors, as long as I know what he is doing and that he is safe. I drop by periodically to check on him, and use the opportunity to allow him to have a private space that everyone in the family respects.

One more thing, our introverted teens must be ready for a world in which at least 75% of individuals are extroverts. I realize I can’t  shield my son from the different personalities types in his environment. I am very much an extrovert and I have found that sharing with James my personality needs (I like people, parties, music) and how these things fill me with joy and positive energy, helps him understand the uniqueness and positive attributes of both approaches.

Have faith. Your introverted teenager can thrive and accomplish as successfully as any outgoing kid. I truly believe it!

Jeannette Rivera-LylesAbout Jeannette Rivera-Lyles: Jeannette is a born storyteller. She knew that she wanted to write professionally as early as the first grade and she followed her dream. Jeannette is the founder of Accent Communications, a strategic communications consulting firm in Central Florida. Previously, she worked in print and broadcast journalism at places like the NBC News Channel,  El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel. Additionally, Jeannette has freelanced for BBC Mundo, Florida Politics.com, AhoraMismo.com, and MSN Latino. Jeannette enjoys the challenges of parenting two teenage boys, ages 13 and 15. She also loves wine, foreign films and taking naps in the backyard.


We Are ALL Parkland Parents

With tears rolling down her face, Lori Alhadeff looked into the CNN camera, screamed into a microphone and begged President Trump to do something about the nation’s deadly gun epidemic. As she shouted, “President Trump, please do something!”  her powerful statement, her anger and her raw emotions brought me to tears. Watching her, I became her. I felt her feelings of overwhelming sadness. I wanted to hug that mother and tell her I understood her grief and anger. I wanted to shout alongside her. After all, regardless of where we live, we are all Parkland parents.

I am certain all mothers of teenagers who read the articles, watched the news reports and saw the social media posts on the Parkland shooting have felt every ounce of emotion that the community’s parents have experienced in the last week. We are parents who love our teenagers and send them to high school believing they are going home for dinner, just like Parkland parents believed. Had Nikolas Cruz attended our teen’s high school, the victim could have been our child.

Like the parents we see burying their children, we are horrified and numb. Like the Parkland parents whose surviving teenagers are traumatized, we are appalled at what they witnessed.  This isn’t the first time for us, though.  As parents, we have been here before. We have seen the faces on television of parents who lost children during other horrific school shootings.

But this time is different.

This time, a socially conscious, action-oriented generation of teenagers is determined to evoke change and ensure these 17 victims are remembered.  With a social media campaign now known as #NeverAgain, these teenagers and student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are making plans and taking action.  They are leading protest against gun violence in front of the White House. They are holding rallies to demand leaders make school safety a top priority. They have organized #MarchForOurLives, a national event to honor the victims of gun violence with action.

On March 24, 2018, students will rally in Washington D.C and in local communities across the country to demand action from  leaders and fight for an America that is free from gun violence.
#MarchForOurLives campaign











Politicians are offering them resources.

congresswoman offers help with #MarchForOurLives



Celebrities are recognizing their efforts.

Amy Schumer posts about #MarchForOurLives










As a parent, I could not be prouder of these teenagers.  They need our support in any way we can give it to them. Spread their messages on social media. Give to their fundraising campaigns. Show them love by marching alongside them and inspiring your teenager to participate in activities that draw attention to creating positive change toward school safety. And, continue to send prayers to those families of victims and those of survivors.

As they lead the way to change, let’s support those who are working to make a difference. We are all Parkland parents. We are all in pain and we all want desperately to believe in #NeverAgain.

What do you when your teenager doesn’t want to go to college

to go or not to go to college


On those rare occasions that I have conversation with my son about his future, I try not to pry too much and let him do all the talking. So, one day Matthew decided to tell me that he doesn’t know  if he wants to go to college.

My first reaction was,  “You will be going to college. Are you crazy?”  But I took a deep breath, and told Matthew he still has  two years to decide what he wants to do after high school. He is 16 years old and a high school sophomore.  I know some 16 year olds may already know what they want to do when they graduate and where they want to go to college.  However, not all teenagers know. They are all different and that’s okay.

Stress, I truly believe, has a lot to do with it.  Teenagers have so much homework and so much studying that often they can’t see their future, and the thought of more work in college scares them.


should teenagers to to college

I told Matthew we will cross that bridge when we get to it, and we will take one day at a time. He said, ” I don’t  want to waste your money on college.  I would rather take a year off and then decide.” I told him I appreciated that he didn’t want to waste our money and his time going to college, but I hope he  changes his mind.  I told him he could take a “gap year” if he felt it  is what he needs.

I truly felt trying to talk to him out of not going to college at this point would be useless. I remember my daughter Olivia’s thoughts about college when she was 16, and she did a full 180 by the time she graduated.  I think what I do need to worry about is Matthew’s stress and anxiety and how to help him work through it. I guess my gut as a mom tells me he will change his mind because he is a smart kid and knows that without education, it is more difficult to succeed in life.  Matthew just needs to mature and grow up  some more before making any decisions about his future.

So for now, I continue to listen when he wants to talk, which is rare for a teenage boy. I  try to help him  work through the stress and anxiety, and of course, I try to guide him to make smart decisions for his future.  Because in the end, parents get blamed 10 or 15 years later when their children’s lives are not how they planned, even if we let them choose the path they want to follow.

How to Know If Your Teenager is Too Old for the Pediatrician


It’s the night before my son’s first high school lacrosse practice this season when he realizes he needs the completed doctor’s form to be allowed to participate. “Mom, what should I do?” he asks me. The answer seems obvious to me but it has completed befuddled him. “Call the doctor, ask if you need a checkup for the doctor to complete the form, and if so, make an appointment,” I tell him.

And that’s how the episode begins.

The next day we are in the pediatrician’s office, surrounded by wailing babies and coughing toddlers. Because Garret is 16,  the doctor says I still need to go in with him. Now that we are here, and Garret has learned he will be seeing a female doctor, he is panicked. “Is she going to need to check my pee-pee?” he asks me. This thought never occurred to me before this moment. “I’m not sure,” I say.

Minutes later, (thankfully) we are in the examination room staring at cartoons on the wall and pictures of cute animals. Garret turns to me and says, “Mom, I think I’m too old for this place.”

I act surprised by Garret’s declaration, although secretly I’m thinking the same thing. My two older children went to the pediatrician until they left for college but for some reason, this whole experience has become uncomfortable.

Even worse, suddenly, it’s all about me. As much as I hated going to the pediatrician when the kids were young, I don’t want to be the mom whose kids no longer go. To me, that means I’m old.

In comes the doctor, as nice as can be. She asks a ton of questions and all is well.  Until…the dreaded part of the physical. Now she is telling Garret about STDs and warning him about testicle injuries and yep, she needs to take a look down there. I bury my head in my hands.

“All good,” she says.

We head out the door with the signed form in hand. My son is mortified and he lets me know it. “Mom that was SO awkward,” he says. “I agree,” I tell him. “Next time we will make sure we get one of the male doctors,” I say.

For now, he is satisfied with my answer. For now, I leave with the comforting feeling I still have a child who goes to the pediatrician. I know it won’t last much longer. So, to make us both happy, I grab two lollipops on the way out.

Readers, until what age do you think it’s okay to take a teenager to the pediatrician’s office? Mine told me they see teens up until age 21 and can allow them in without a parent after 18. I think 18 may be the oldest I would consider.

How to Know When Your Teenager Wants to Talk

Last weekend, my teenage son Garret and I were driving to a food festival. My cell phone rang and I answered the call. It was my daughter at college with a big story to tell me. As I spoke to her, I didn’t notice how annoyed Garret was getting until he screamed out, “Enough talking on your phone mom!”

I hung up with my daughter and asked Garret what was going on. He told me he just wanted to talk to me. “I don’t understand why you have to be on the phone when we’re in the car together,” he said.

I felt like a bad mom. I had totally missed that signs that Garret want to talk to me. He actually had something specific he wanted to talk about, but I had no idea when we got in the car. Usually, Garret blasts his rap music when we are driving somewhere together. A lot of the time when I want him to open up to me, he gets annoyed by my prodding.

Because Garret is my third child, I should know the signs by now when a teenager wants to talk to his or her parent. But even as a seasoned veteran, I was off my game.

talking to a teenager

Seize the moment

If you want good communication with your teen, it’s important to seize the moment when you can to have a conversation rather than a lecture. Car rides are great places for that opportunity — and by talking on the phone, I had almost squandered it.  The next car ride alone with your teenager, turn off the radio, don’t answer your phone and it’s likely your teenager will surprise you with candid conversation.

Do something together

Another sign your teenager wants to talk is when he or she asks you to do an activity together. When my son Jake was home from college, he asked me if I wanted to go on a bike ride. Jake rarely opens up. But during the bike ride, he had lots to say and actually talked to me about his girlfriend.

When I watched the television show “13 Reasons Why” one of the things I found scary was how the teenagers shrugged off their parents’ efforts at conversation.  At times, my teenagers have shrugged me off the same way. It feels as if they want to talk when they want to talk and they don’t want to talk when you want to talk. The definitely don’t want you asking them questions.

Be available

A spontaneous conversation in the car or in their bedrooms late at night — any time when you’re not rushed — can make for some of the warmest, most rewarding moments with a teenager, according to Laurence Steinberg, an expert in adolescent behavior.  I have learned that those moments happen when your teen can tell they have your attention and when you listen more than you speak.

On WebMD, Steinberg said. “I think for parents, one of the key parts of having good communication with kids is being around enough to capitalize on these moments that invariably don’t come up when you expect them to.”

Be aware of location

As toddlers, the spontaneous hugs and “guess what mom?” seemed to come so easily. Now, my teenagers have a life that I’m not fully a part of and connecting is much more complicated. I noticed with Garret, and with my older teenagers, that they don’t like to have those deeper, bonding conversations in their bedrooms. It’s almost like I have invaded their personal space. So, if Garret comes into my bedroom or my home office or into the kitchen while I’m cooking, it is a sign he has something to tell me or is  open to conversation.

As parents, I feel we need to know what our kids are doing and thinking. Teenagers see it differently.  They don’t want us to know everything going on in their lives.  Still, the teen years are such a crucial time and just because they aren’t willing to open up to us as much as when they were younger, doesn’t mean we can’t keep working on ways to have those important talks. Next time I’m in the car alone with Garret, he gets priority over phone calls.  While, it took a harsh reminder  to get me to realize it, not only do those bonding conversations mean a lot to me, they mean a lot to our teenagers, even if our teens don’t always admit it.


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How to Help Your Teenager Find Great Volunteer Opportunities

As a mom, I want my teenagers to be community minded. I also know that to graduate high school, they need volunteer hours.

In my house, that has become a source of nagging at times. It also has become a source of frustration as my teens and I brainstorm volunteer options that fit with their interests and they dismiss all of my ideas.

So, I am thrilled that Jane Dabel has stepped up and offer suggestions. Jane is  professor and academic advisor at California State University in Long Beach, where she has been teaching for the past 17 years. She also write The College Guidebook  blog, which gives tips to parents about how to make the college application process stress free.

Here are Jane’s suggestions:


Volunteering Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Helping Your Child Find Great Volunteering Opportunities


Volunteering is a fantastic extracurricular activity. It will not only give your child a great deal of satisfaction and self-respect to help people in need, but it’ll show them what it’s like to work in the real world: and hey, it might even lead to a scholarship or turn into a job opportunity someday!


But don’t encourage your child to volunteer for just any of cause. The “do what you love” rule applies here. For example, is your child totally into DIY projects? Maybe they could build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Are sweet furry creatures their thing? They might want to volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Volunteer Websites

If your child already knows a particular organization for which they’d like to volunteer, find their website and take a look. Most will have a page that provides contact and other general information and will be glad to hear from them. If your child is not quite that focused yet, here’s a list of websites that can help steer them in the right direction.

At Volunteer Match, your teens can search for volunteer openings in or near your town, for a specific age group or within a particular field. They’ll find listings from national and international nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Peace Corps, as well as openings at smaller agencies that are unique to your area—over 50,000 organizations in all! When they find a listing that interests them, just register and the site will send an email to the organization on their behalf.

Network for Good offers a similarly rich array of volunteer options, with some great extras: Teens can use their Volunteer Record of Service to track their volunteer hours and their thoughts on the experience. And a partnership with the United Nations allows them to do good from the comfort of their own home; if they participate in the Online Volunteering Service, they’ll be connected with one of the hundreds of organizations that need their help.

Idealist provides a massive trove of volunteer opportunities with an international bent.

This is a great site to check out openings for volunteer work at national parks, historic sites, and other public agencies.

Quality AND Quantity

Doing one walk in their senior year doesn’t say much about your teenager or her  passions. It also shows admissions officers that she doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm or discipline.

When your teens find causes or activities they love, they should try to spend a significant amount of time dedicated to them. That means months or years of going to meetings, participating in events—doing whatever it takes for them to be really involved. Besides, the more time and effort they devote to an organization, the more it means that their responsibilities can increase. They might be put in charge of planning events instead of just going to them. Or they could become a team manager of a summer camp leader. That kind of experience will be really valuable as they move from high school to college, and then on to the real world. Plus, admissions officers will be really impressed.

Document Experiences

It’s important to keep a record of the time they spend volunteering—it can help them to apply for scholarships and jobs and maybe even to get school credit. They can do this in a notebook or journal if that’s most comfortable. Or if they prefer to keep an electronic record, a private blog or a basic word processing file is a simple way to keep their thoughts in one place. Their annotations can be very simple, like those below:



Sunrise Senior Living Home

June 2013-August 2013: five hours a week

Responsibilities included: general office tasks, lending a helping hand to busy nurses, and helping organize events like the Valentine’s Day dinner/dance, the Fourth of July picnic, and bingo nights.



New York Cares

January-December 2013

Participated In six urban renewal projects: painted murals, helped with a park cleanup, and attended fundraisers that included a bake sale, a basketball tournament, and a hip-hop dance competition.

More ways to document

Teens  also can track their hours at the Presidential Service Awards website.

This tracker will automatically add up hours, such as a weekly volunteer commitment, so it’s easy for the teens to see where they stand.

On top of counting hours and making a list of tasks, have your child consider keeping a record of the experience itself.

For example: What is volunteering like for them?  What do they see or experience that is new to them? How does it make them think differently about their own life? What do they most enjoy about it?

Thinking about their experience, and having a sense of how it affects them, will give them an edge when it comes time to talk about it with a potential boss, a teacher, or a college admissions counselor.

Volunteering instills a sense of social responsibility and community awareness, but it’s a lot easier when teenagers have some guidance on where and how to start.

This family board game will definitely let you “Talk About It”!

Last  Sunday night my family had just  finished eating dinner and I was starting to clean up the kitchen when my son Matthew said, “Mom, if you want to play that game after dinner, we can.” He was referring to a board game called Talk About It!

Well, you never saw me clean the kitchen so fast. I knew I only had a small window of opportunity for Matthew to give his attention to something other than his computer. 

Talk About It!  is family board game intended to encourage  communication between teens and adults. It’s a card/dice game with a twist!

Because I have a teenage son who loves the computer more than anything in the world,  I couldn’t wait to try this game, and possibly get him interested in something new.

When you open the board game’s rule book, there are several choices of specific games to play. We decided on Go  Fish since it was easy and our first time. I had Matthew pick the deck we would play from.  We had topics ranging from stress, to feelings, to icebreakers, to values. Matthew picked the “least of  the most awkward” topics for him to talk about. He picked values.

We started the game and I was so nervous as to who would have to answer a question first. Well, it was my husband and believe it or not, I was just as curious to hear his answers as my son’s. When Matthew finally got to answer, I listened carefully and tried not to look obvious that I was hanging on his every word and thrilled to be playing this game with him.

Matthew, on the other hand, was not so thrilled, but he played anyway. What I found peculiar was that no matter who had to answer the question on the card, Matthew would answer for that person.

For example, if I had a card that said, “What do you value most, that you are not willing to give up?” Matthew would answer for me, or at least give me some choices. I answered “respect” and then went into why. I started to notice Matthew really wanted to share his answer for someone else’s question. I started to listen to his response more than my husband’s answers. But I also got an opportunity to learn Matthew thoughts on topics we usually don’t talk about.  It was a way for him to tell us things he normally wouldn’t.

At one point, I said we can stop if you don’t want to play anymore. Matthew surprised me when he said, “No, let’s play until we are done.”  For me, this board game  was the key to learning more about Matthew’s thoughts and feelings in a way that I couldn’t accomplish without it being awkward or without him shutting me down.   I also loved that my husband opened up in front of my son.

I  truly believe teens are not going to openly tell you how they feel, or what they feel, or why they feel how they do —  but playing board games often helps. For me, the game definitely helped my son Talk About  It. You might want to consider a family game night. It can get quite interesting!

No son, you can not say the n-word

My 16-year-old son and I are at odds.

I blame Gucci Mane. And Kendrick Lamar. And Kanye West.

My son loves their rap music and walks around singing the lyrics to their songs.  When he takes a shower, he blasts rap music. At first, I didn’t mind because the beat is catchy, and I want him to encourage him to have his own taste in music.

But here’s why we are at odds.  These are the lyrics to Gucci Mane’s song, “Last Time” (one of my son’s favorites).

I love when my bitch get drunk ’cause she talk greasy to me
Nigga with an attitude, this shit gettin’ easy to me
The last time I drunk some lean I was out of my mind
Tried gave me 20 years and that’s a whole lotta time
A married woman divorce her husband to spend the weekend with me
He think it nasty when she squirt but that shit sexy to me
The last time I took some molly, took a gram and a half
Niggas think they know ’bout Gucci but they don’t know the half
See I’m an ex-X popper and online shopper
Niggas thought I was a clone, they heard me speak proper
Convicted felon worth 10 million, I’m a well known robber
Like Shawty Lo I got 10 children, yeah, Lo my partner


These are not exactly the words you want your 16-year-old son walking around singing. I hate songs that have the word bitch in them and MANY rap songs do. However, my biggest beef is with the word “nigga.” I have noticed that tons of rap songs have that word in them. So, you have a bunch of teenage white boys rapping along to hip-hop songs and saying the n-word. The more they sing it, the more they think it’s okay to say it. In my eyes, it’s not okay. I have let my son know that LOUD and CLEAR. We all know that word has heinous origins and while the “a” at the end instead of “er” may be an attempt to reclaim the word and casualize it, in my eyes putting an “a” at the end  doesn’t make the word less revolting when being sung by a white boy.

My son says he likes the beat and the vibe of rap music and he prefers hip-hop artists to pop artists. He friends do, too. They seem to know almost every word to every song by popular hip-hop artists. In the last few years, rap has permeated the mainstream and even pop music stations play rap music in between top 40 hits.

When we’re together in the car, I listen to rap  with my son.  Some of the lyrics are insightful and moving. The beats are catchy.  But the cursing! I can’t stand it! Sometimes when a song is too explicit, I will insist my son skips to another song. Why do rappers have to use such vulgar language and why the n-word?

I am told that cursing is part of the rap genre and hip-hop artists are singing about where they came from and how they were raised. I get that. I read one teenager’s argument that profanity makes rap what it is. Again, I get it, but I don’t have to like the cursing, especially when my kid is singing along.

I wonder how it feels as a rapper to look at into the crowd at a concert and see teenage white kids among the sea of black fans singing your lyrics and hearing “nigga” coming out of their mouths like no big deal.

As a parent,  how do I  instill my son with a sense of historical perspective about this derogatory word while letting him enjoy and embrace a music genre becoming popular among his friend group?  There is no easy solution from my seat in the car and my son isn’t happy that I have banned him from saying any form of the n-word.

If you’re going through this battle over rap lyrics with your teenager, what approach have you taken?

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