Raising Teens

A site for parents of teens striving for sanity

Category: School issues (page 1 of 4)

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.

Back to School: A Parent’s Guide to High School


Yesterday, I was talking to a friend whose daughter starts high school today. Even on the phone, I could hear the angst in her voice. I am remember that angst well. There is a lot to worry about during the high school years and it’s a little scary for parents. So, here is a guide to help you, the parent, survive the next four years. These are my 10 best tips.

1. Your child will be more stressed than in middle school. In high school, classes are more difficult, workload is more intense, teacher expectations are higher. Some teens handle the stress better than others. You may need to step in and come up with ways to help your teen cope. When meltdowns happen, they usually are late at night. Do what it takes to smoothe things over and get your teen to go to bed.

2.   In high school, people are annoying.  Your teen will come home and talk about how much he or she is annoyed by some teacher, classmate, friend, or maybe even by you. That’s just the way it is. Don’t take it personally.

3. Phones play a bigger than ever role. Teens take pictures of assignments, share homework, look up answers and of course socialize on their phones. Just get used to your teens staring at their screens.

4. You likely will NOT get the whole story. When teens hit the high school years, they start to keep information from their parents. You may hear part of the story, but it’s normal for teens to hold back.

5. Lunch is when big things happen. Arguments, relationships, friendships, cheating…the beginnings of these activities tend to start during lunch. If you are going to ask your teen about his or her day, pay attention to what went on at lunch time.

6. Teachers prefer students to resolve their own issues. There is nothing wrong with parents interceding when a situation gets out of hand, but in high school it’s best to let your teenager try to fix an issue on his or her own first.

7. You don’t get to choose your teenagers’ friends. This is a tough one for parents to accept, especially for moms who made playdates for their kids or organized sleepovers. In high school they choose their own friends and they may choose some you don’t like.

8. These next four years can get expensive. First there is the clothing. Then there is the car, insurance and gas. There also are class rings, homecomings, proms, clubs fees, club fundraisers, sports fees and uniform costs, entrance to football games, and supplies like computers and calculators.  Without realizing it, the costs add up. You may want to budget for additional costs or talk to your teens about contributing  for the items they consider most important.

9. If your teens says something you do is nerdy, believe them. My daughter reminds me that I wanted to drive her up to  the front of the school and she insisted it was nerdy. Apparently it took me about a week to understand that the further away I dropped her from the front, the better.

10.  Every year of high school counts. Encourage your teen to do his or her best every year. Colleges look at rigor, grades and activities starting freshman year. If your teen is not doing well in a course, try to catch it early and get him or her a free in-school tutor or request a transfer into another course.

High school can be as challenging for parents as it is for their children. Hang in there! You will be surprised at how fast four years fly by!

Are all promposals creepy?


It’s that time again: promposal season. Time when there’s a fine line between a cute or romantic invitation to prom, and an over-the-top creepy one.  One year my son’s friend asked a girl to prom by writing PROM? on her car with pancake syrup because she likes pancakes. It was sticky and she was pissed.

Things have gotten so out of hand with promposals that Jimmy Kimmel made a huge commotion about it last week. Jimmy says the time has come for celebrity promposals to end.  He gave an impassioned speech during his monologue imploring high school students to stop creating elaborate videos to ask celebrities to prom.

Jimmy’s came after a boy created a promposal video to ask Emma Stone to prom.  Emma’s answer was that she is working in London. She really dodged a bullet with that one!

But Jimmy told it like it is…. “She doesn’t want to go to a dance with you because she’s 28, and 28-year-old people don’t want to go on dates with 16-year-old children because it’s creepy.”

I’m not sure when this whole crazy tradition of teens creating elaborate ways to ask each other to prom got started and I’m even less sure why Hollywood has been roped into the craziness. Some believe it started with the use of social media. A few shared videos or pictures of romantic prom invitations may have led to the hysteria now known as promposals.

I gotta say I feel bad for shy teens who can barely get up the guts to ask someone to prom…now he or she has to do an elaborate ask and often it comes across as desperate — or creepy. It’s particularly creepy when someone you barely know does an outlandish promposal and backs you into a corner.  I just saw a photo of a guy who tattooed  “Prom?”  on his side. Sure hope his potential prom date said yes.


Recently I heard about a prom idea I LOVED….at one Illinois high school, prom dates are randomly assigned by lottery so no one gets left out. Male students draw names of female students in the school library, while girls wait for them in the school’s gym. After the names are drawn, a skit is performed to reveal who their dates are. The lottery system started in 1926, to ensure that all students had a date to prom, but the current students still think it’s a great tradition.

I particularly like it because no one has to out do the other with a creepy promposal. My son in high school says it stinks because couples can’t go with their significant other on their big night of high school. (He’s got a point there) He also says not all promposals are creepy. (I agree that some are sweet, but overall I think this promposal stuff has gone too far.)

What are your thoughts on promposals? Are they sweet, creepy, unnecessary?


Here are  the 10 Funniest Promposals Gone Wrong.

Here are 25 of the most ridiculous, over-the-top Promposals.

Why teens are taking prescription medicine

I am sharing with our readers an article that was published  in my son, Matthew’s high school newspaper,  The Eagle Eye.

I was shocked but then again I wasn’t when I read this well-written article about prescription medicati by a junior at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Coral Springs, Florida. I am very familiar with Adderall because my daughter Olivia is on it for her ADD. I recall reminding her to take it every day and cautioned her about the side effects that came with taking it. I told her she would have loss of appetite and it would keep her up all night.  I also recall reminding her  that selling her prescription pills is a felony and told her not to ever even think of doing so, even if someone asks to buy one from her.  She was well aware of that risk and assured me she would never sell her pills and jeopardize her future. But, what is sad is that kids feel the need to use this ADD/ADHD medicine to help them get through all their school workload. Some teens are so desperate they illegally want to buy it off their friends. Parents, this is awful! This is a cry for help! These kids have no other alternative? Really?  Clearly, this medicine helps many teens succeed and do well, but at what expense?

Are the schools or teachers even aware that so many teens feel a need to take this medicine to stay awake and focused? If not, teachers need to wake up. Maybe our high schools should have classes for teens on how to handle stress or school workload. I am very worried about our teens’ stress levels. Some turn to prescription drugs,  some become depressed — and some do even the unthinkable, commit suicide.  We as parents need to do what we can to help our teens handle their stress levels, even if that means talking with their teachers.  My heart goes out to these teens who feel they have no other alternatives  to handle their stress other than medication or suicide.

Adderall is physically and psychologically addicting, and has long-term side effects.  What about the legal ramifications if your teen gets caught taking it without a prescription? You can kiss your teen’s future goodbye because now they are in a heap of legal trouble.  Now, as a preventative or if your teen does get into legal trouble, I would highly recommend you reach out to ARAG, a national company that offers legal insurance to families.   I wish I knew about legal insurance  years ago, but I know about it now and I am very passionate about paying it forward and helping  other parents become aware of this resources they could tap  in case of an emergency.  There are so many things to worry about as a parent of a teen and  ARAG  (a sponsor of RaisingTeens) could be an important resource because having legal insurance can save you money  and peace of mind when it comes to your teen’s future.

So, parents, please read this article because your teen can have all the right intentions as to why he/she is taking  Adderall, but not realize there are physical and legal consequences for abusing it, and selling or sharing their medicine.

Students abuse pharmaceuticals to maximize efficiency for schoolwork

Helping your teen through exam stress


It’s 10 p.m. at night and you know what’s about to happen. You sense that the mood is about to shift in your home.  Your teenage daughter is stressed about end of semester exams and a melt down is just minutes away.  Yep, here it comes…the tears, the drama, the no-win effort to calm her down.  Are you ready to pull your hair out yet and long for the days of diapers?

It may be years since I graduated high school, but as a parent of a teen, exam hell is far from over! When my teen is suffering, I must suffer, too.

With three children,  I have experienced both extremes of exam hell. You may have as well. Either you have the kid who doesn’t seem one bit concerned about the gravity of mid-term exams (but needs to be), or you have the teen who takes it so seriously that you actually start to worry. This is when parenting gets difficult.

How do you make a teen more concerned about his grades? How do you calm a teen who is so stressed she can’t sleep?

Here is what experts say we are not supposed to do:

  1. Say things like:  “Shouldn’t you be studying?” or “You are getting way too crazy about exams!”
  2. Interfere with how they study.  I know it’s hard to hold back but we’re not supposed to say, “How can you think with that music blasting?”  (This one is going to be hard for me!) Apparently, some teens can study better with music or the TV on in the background.
  3.  Nag them about what they are doing instead of studying.
  4.  Bribe them with money to study
  5. Fight with them about their cell phone use. (This one is super hard for me. I hate when my son studies with his phone by his side. )
  6. Tell them to stop stressing  (This has the opposite effect!)


Here is what we are supposed to do:

  1. Be lenient about chores, messy rooms and untidiness as much as possible.
  2.  Give them a break and understand lost tempers and moodiness
  3.  Encourage them to work hard for their own satisfaction, not just for the grade
  4.  Schedule small  rewards for the effort they are putting in or suggest a special evening out as a treat to look forward to when exams are over.
  5.  Encourage them to put a single exam into perspective. The world is not going to end.
  6. Discourage cheating
  7. Encourage them to find some outlet to de-stress. (Maybe offer to talk a walk with your teen after a solid hour of studying?)


So if exam pressure is building in your household and a meltdown is moments away, give your teen a reassuring hug and try not to say much.  Know that teenagers are programmed to overreact and rant to their parents. Take it from a mom who has been there…there is no easy way to navigate exam season. But then again, there is no easy way to parent a teen!


New Year, Tons of Homework


I’m not sure what’s going on but the new year has my home in turmoil.  My oldest are still home from college on winter break having a great time doing whatever they feel like doing and my youngest is inundated with homework.

I remember the older two having tons of homework in high school but it seems to have gotten worse. I know each child has their own pace for getting homework done, and maybe my youngest is slower at his homework (or more distracted). Still, how much homework is too much?

I hate being the nagging mom asking repeatedly each night, “How much homework do you have?” It’s just that as a mom, I want my kid to go to bed at a decent hour. Some nights, I feel like screaming at the teachers, “What are you thinking? These teens deserve time to be a kid.”

Unfortunately, it’s a different academic world today than when most of us parents went to high school.  There is so much pressure on teens to take advanced classes, get good grades, get amazing test scores, participate in activities and go to college. Some teens do after school activities — or work — and then have to come home to hours of homework. No wonder our teens are stressed out, burnt out and suffering from anxiety!

When my daughter got to college last year, she felt the workload was a breeze compared to what she had in high school. She also had more time to get the work done. In that way, I guess high school prepared her well.

Still, is the overwhelming amount of high school homework necessary? I really don’t think it is! I think about all those parents out there,  trying to get their teens to put down their phones and finish math and I send them my sympathy. We all want our children to do well in school. But does school really need to follow our kids home in such a burdensome way?

What are your thoughts on high school homework?


Cell phones and homework? The struggles of a parent of a teen

A few days ago, I walked into the room to see my son at his desk staring at his cell phone.  I yelled at him to put it down and get his homework done. But,  he insisted he was doing his homework. “Mom, I’m looking up my assignment,” he told me.

Lately, I’ve noticed a big difference in the way my youngest child Garret, a high school freshman, uses his phone and the way his older siblings used their phones .  Garret uses his phone for everything he needs to do his homework. He uses it to look up word definitions, check his grades, calculate math problems and research science terms. Of course, in between, he’s also liking pictures on Instagram and pulling up videos on Vine.

As a parent, I’m struggling with maintaining control over how much connectivity is too much, particularly when my teen is a digital native who considers a paperback dictionary “ridiculous” and “unnecessary”.

A big problem is that homework in my house seems to drag on for hours and I find myself nagging Garret to hurry up so he can get to sports practice on time or get to bed at a decent hour.  While I realize that teachers pile on the homework, I’m sure that some of the reason it drags on for hours is because of the distraction of electronics.

In a new study by Common Sense Media, half of the teenagers said they watch TV or use social media either “a lot” or “sometimes” while doing homework, and 76 percent said they listen to music while working.  Half of the teens also said that listening to music actually helps their work, while only 6 percent said they thought it hurt.

“As a parent and educator, there’s clearly more work to be done around the issue of multi-tasking,” said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, an organization that monitors youthful media use and gives recommendations to parents told NBC News. “Nearly two-thirds of teens today tell us they don’t think watching TV or texting while doing homework makes any difference to their ability to study and learn, even though there’s more and more research to the contrary.”

My friend Stefani is just as frustrated as I am. She took her son’s cell phone away from him a few days ago. She explained to me that he’s a kid who is easily distracted and whose grades have been slipping. “I blame that darn phone,” she said.

The phone is just one culprit in our teens’ addiction to devices.  New research has found that teens are spending a reported nine hours a day on media consumption, with tweens trailing not too far behind, dedicating an estimated six hours to their smartphones or tablets.

Steyer says that that statistic  is sad because it “shows you that kids spend more time with media and technology than they do with their parents, time in school or any other thing.”

While it is sad, it also is reality.

Until now, I’ve been okay with letting my son use his phone while doing homework. He is doing well in school. But this survey has me wondering if I am making a mistake. Maybe I should make Garret put his phone in the desk drawer until his homework is finished. What do you think…should cell phones be part of the homework routine —  or banned until it’s completed?

How Parents Can Survive College Admissions Madness






As a mother of a high school senior who is waiting to hear from colleges about acceptances, I really appreciated this article in the New York Times called How to Survive the College Madness. It talks a lot about how getting into your first college of choice shouldn’t define who you become.

Here’s a link to the article:

As part of the article, author Frank Bruni includes a letter from parents’ to their son regarding college acceptances and rejections. It struck a chord with me and I want to share it with all of you who will someday be in these parents’ shoes like I am right now.

Dear Matt,

On the night before you receive your first college response, we wanted to let you know that we could not be any prouder of you than we are today. Whether or not you get accepted does not determine how proud we are of everything you have accomplished and the wonderful person you have become. That will not change based on what admissions officers decide about your future. We will celebrate with joy wherever you get accepted — and the happier you are with those responses, the happier we will be. But your worth as a person, a student and our son is not diminished or influenced in the least by what these colleges have decided.

If it does not go your way, you’ll take a different route to get where you want. There is not a single college in this country that would not be lucky to have you, and you are capable of succeeding at any of them.

We love you as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky, all the way around the world and back again — and to wherever you are headed.

Mom and Dad




Ugh! Is anyone else dreading “Back to School”?

Well the time has come.. it’s “BACK TO SCHOOL” time! The time of year I dread! I dread it because I feel like I AM IN HIGHSCHOOL AGAIN and because of the following TOP 10 reasons:

1. Fighting moms  at the mall with back to school shopping clothes

2. Buying ALL the supplies for school and then having more to shop and hunt for after the first day!

3. HOMEWORK!! who do you think helps? Moms and Dads ! and trying to get it all done before soccer practice!

4. TEST! EXAMS!  again, who do you think helps them study??

5. Traffic will now double in the moring and afternoon! as well as we have school zones to slow us getting to work.

6. Keeping up with all the school meetings!

7. Early morning wake ups! Love trying to get everyone up and  out on time.

8. Driving them to school.There goes that extra time we had in the morning to ourselves.

9. Crazy rushed mornings getting everything done.

10. Last minute runs to buy items for a school project that is due the next day.

So, I ask you, Is anyone else dreading it?

As college approaches, mom gets panicked

I can’t help myself. I’m in a panic.

As the idea that my teen daughter will soon be leaving for college sinks in, I’m in lecture mode.

Every chance I get, I slip in another lecture based on my worry of the moment.

Don’t drink from a cup you put down at a frat party!

Don’t walk around campus at night by yourself!

Don’t be fooled into think a guy wants you to watch TV at his apartment (He always wants more!)

Don’t take a shower in the dorm without shower shoes!

Don’t get busted with a fake ID!

I have a new “don’t” for her as each week passes. What’s wrong with me?

I want my daughter to enjoy her college experience. I want her to become independent and make new friends. But I’m overtaken the need to squeeze lectures into every free moment of our time together.

I’m really not sure how I went from “get rid of that pacifier” to “always carry around mace.”

Do all parents of high school grads get this crazy? Please tell me I not the only one.

Meanwhile, I’m off to give another lecture….


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