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Your Middle Schooler Doesn’t Need A Cell Phone

This morning I received an email from the middle school principal where Number 3 and 4 go to school.

In the email, the principal was asking for parents’ help in a number of areas. One was with fidget spinners.  They’ve become quite a distraction at school.

I’ll admit I contributed to this problem. Number 3 and 4  both have (fucking) fidget spinners. I sincerely regret getting them for the kids, especially since they don’t use them for the purpose they were originally intended. They don’t need them. At all.

And if I hate them, I can only imagine how teachers are feeling right now.

So the fidget spinners have been relegated to home. And we have already completely lost one. Thank God.

The next thing the principal was looking for help with was cell phones:

Our goal is to minimize distractions during the day. To do this, we ask students not to be actively on or looking at cell phones during the day unless they are in the cafeteria or a classroom where teachers allow it. We also ask that you refrain from texting your child during the school day.

These have also become a distraction at school.

Okay. I’m just gonna come right out and say two things.

First, middle schoolers should not be allowed to have cell phones in school. There is absolutely no reason for them. None.

They still have those “old fashioned” phones there. You know, the ones with cords attached to them? I can attest that they work. My kids use them to communicate successfully with me all the time.

Second, your middle schooler doesn’t need a phone not just in school.

Your middle schooler doesn’t need a phone at all. Period.

Yeah.

I said it.

Your ten/eleven/twelve/thirteen/ and YES, EVEN fourteen-year-old kid doesn’t need a cell phone.

But I’m divorced and my ex is an asshole and I need to be able to get in touch with my kid.

Perhaps in some cases, this is true. There may be some situations where you must be able to get in touch with your child on a cell phone because your ex prevents any and all communication otherwise.

If that’s the case, then sure. Get your kid a cell phone.

But not a smart phone.

YOUR CHILD DOES NOT NEED A SMARTPHONE.

In fact, nobody NEEDS a smartphone.

 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stay on top of my kids as it is. Once I put a smartphone in their hands, I’ve got a multitude of new responsibilities.

I’ve now got all sorts of shit I need to monitor in addition to the non-smartphoney stuff.

There’s You Tube. Google. Those are bad enough.

Then there are a billion apps.

There are the ones I know about. Like, say, Snapchat.

Your kids are supposed to be 13 to open up a Snapchat account. But your kids aren’t stupid. They can lie, make up an age, and open an account very easily. They know this.

I know because my kids have done it. On an iPod.

But then there are the apps I’ve never even heard of.

Did you know there’s an app called Private Photos (also called Calculator%)? I just learned about this one today. Here’s the description:

Private Photo (Calculator%) app is private photos and videos hidden behind calculator. Anyone who starts this application looks at a calculator but if you put in passcode it will open up private area. All files are securely stored in the App and remain completely private and confidential.

That’s fucking scary.

I also learned about a new challenge circulating around social media now called the Blue Whale Challenge. This challenge is basically a list of fifty dares encouraging kids to do participate in risky behaviors (like sitting on the edge of a roof) with  the final item on the list asking participants to kill themselves.

This is a real thing.

A real fucking scary thing.

If you are putting a smartphone in the hands of your children, then you are opening up Pandora’s Box. And if you aren’t prepared to deal with the shit that’s gonna come flying out of that box, then don’t put your kids in a position to be exposed to it. Because once your kids finds out about it, she’s gonna tell my kid about it.

And I don’t want my kid finding out about stuff he or she has no business knowing about because you don’t want to say no to your kids.

I know it sucks to say no. I know kids are relentless.

Trust me, I know it’s no fun to hear But I’m the ONLY ONE in the WHOLE SCHOOL who doesn’t have a cell phone/Instagram-Facebook-Twitter-Musicly account.

I guarantee you are not the only whose middle schoolers don’t have cell phones.

I guarantee that because my kids don’t have them. And they won’t have them until they are mature enough and responsible enough to own them.

When will they be mature enough and responsible enough to own them?

When they can pay for them.

If my kids are not responsible enough to earn the money to buy their own phone and pay the monthly bill, then they are not responsible enough to deal with the contents of Pandora’s Box.

We so easily confuse wants and needs with our children.

Your child may want a cell phone.

But your child does not need access to Google twenty-four hours a day.

Your child does not need to be able to text her friends constantly.

Your child does not need  Snapchat or Musicly or Instagram.

In fact, your child does not need any apps at all.

What does your child need?

Your child needs human interaction.

Your child needs to learn how to hold a conversation.

Your child needs to learn how to make eye contact.

Your child needs to learn how to communicate with their friends and people in general the old fashioned way.

In person.

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Mom, just don’t be boring.

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a high school teacher was looking for a speaker to come in and talk to her Intro to Psychology class.

This is a section of the population I don’t have much experience speaking to.

I’ve spoken for groups of moms and dads. I’ve spent plenty of time speaking with younger kids as both a teacher and a coach.

But the high school crowd is uncharted territory for me.

So I jumped at the chance.

I want to build up my public speaking resume, plus any opportunity to speak is good practice.

So I jumped on it.

My friend asked  me to talk about parenting and discipline.

Much to my disappointment and like I often do, I waited until kind of the last minute to really think about what I wanted to say.

I thought I’d have most of last night to really think about it, and then on a whim, I decided at the last minute to take Number 4 to watch the girls high school Class M state championships because our high school had a shot at winning for the first time ever.

We didn’t get home until after 11 pm, and then I had to get the kids to school this morning and be at the high school at 8:45 for the presentation at 9.

I was on a panel with three other men.

One was a doctor who worked for DCF. One was a pediatrician. (Another doctor). One was the principal of the school. (Another guy). And then there was me.

The presentation was in the library, and the four panelists sat in the front of the group seated behind two tables.

I was on one end of the panel.

The doctor from DCF  was sitting on the other end, and he spoke first about what he does professionally and how he has to handle discipline with regard to the clientele he has to work with.

Then the pediatrician spoke about himself a little bit and what he does in his job, and he addressed the child development stages kids go through, and what it’s important for parents to remember about where teenagers are developmentally.

Then the principal spoke, and he focused mostly on discipline with respect high school students and his job as principal.

And then it was my turn.

I’m not a doctor. And I’m not a dude.

I wanted to be taken seriously, but I also wanted to be interesting and engaging.

Last night on the ride home from the swim meet, I was telling Number 4 how I had to speak to a bunch of high schoolers this morning and I really had no idea what the heck I was going to say.

Her words of advice?

Well, I’m not a parent, so I don’t really know what to tell you. But you need to be cool. Well… not really cool. But, you know…. You can’t be boring. Just make sure you aren’t boring, Mom.

So when my turn came, I thought about what Number 4 said the night before.

I briefly explained a little bit about myself… 7 kids. Swim coach. Former teacher. Blah blah blah.

Then I talked about how being a parent is challenging because the longer you are a parent, the more stuff you realize you don’t know. And that if you really want to be a good parent it’s not about not failing, but it’s about constantly having to self-reflect, and to evaluate what you are doing that is working and continuing to do that while also figuring out what doesn’t work and then working to change that.

That self reflection piece is hard. And exhausting.

Because it never ends.

And then, I thought about what Number 4 said again.

Just make sure you aren’t boring, Mom.

I explained that one of the reasons discipline can be so challenging is because you are always confronted with situations you’ve never been in before, and there is no specific manual explaining how to deal with them in a healthy, respectful, and effective way.

(By the way, the way I’m writing this now is coming out much more intelligently and fluidly than the way I actually said it today).

Anyway, I thought of this story which happened recently at home. I shared it on Facebook a couple days ago, but sometimes Facebook doesn’t show stuff to people.

It was a great example of how you can never be prepared for all the things your kids are going to do and say:

So I don’t know about your kids, but my kids can really get on each other’s cases and they are relentless, and it drives me insane.

It seems to happen most often when they are sitting to eat.

One thing I started doing when they really start to go at it is take a “compliment break.” I give each one of them a complement, and it kind of diffuses the situation, and I’m not losing my shit on anyone but modeling being kind, so it’s a win-win.

Very often, they will give me a compliment back. If I’m really lucky, they will also decide on their own to give each other a compliment!

So today Number 4, 5 and 7 were sitting at the counter in the kitchen eating their lunch, and Number 5 and 7 got into it. And they wouldn’t stop.

And this is the conversation that followed:

Me: You know what time it is?!?!

Number 7: NO MOM! IT’S NOT COMPLIMENT TIME!!!

Me: It is for me! Number 4, you did a great job at middle school swim team try outs today. Number 5, you waited really patiently on the pool deck this morning. I know you were hot and it was boring. Good job! Number 7, you are so good at tying your shoes now! I am so impressed with how quickly you learned to do that.

Number 4: Thanks, Mom. I have a compliment for you…

You are really good at making grilled cheese!

Me: Thank you, Number 4.

Number 7: OKAY MOM! I have a compliment for Number 5.

Me: Great! What is it?

Number 7: Number 5! You are really good at being A PENIS, A BUTTHOLE, AND A VAGINA!

Upon hearing Number 7 ‘s compliment, Number 4 snarfed grilled cheese and apple cider out of her nose, I involuntarily burst into uncontrollable laughter, and Number 5 ran out of the kitchen crying hysterically.

Sometimes the compliment thing really works.

Other times? Well, other times, yeah.

 Not so much.

All I can say is that as far as the high school students went, that little scenario was a crowd pleaser.

Big time.

When in doubt, go with the penis, butthole and vagina stories.

Professionally speaking, I don’t know what the two doctors and the principal thought about it.

And I don’t know if I taught anyone anything about discipline.

But there are a couple things I do know for sure.

One, I think I might be the first mom to yell out the words penis, butthole, and vagina in that library. Or in any high school library in Connecticut, for that matter.

And two, I did what Number 4 said.

And I definitely wasn’t boring.

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Education starts at home. And it might finish at home, too.

I’m thinking about homeschooling the kids.

There.

I said it.

I know.

You think I’m crazy.

In January I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was overloaded, overwhelmed, and completely exhausted.

Now I’m supposed to be streamlining. Cutting things back. Doing less.

Homeschooling won’t exactly lighten the workload.

But I have been thinking about this for a long time.

Not like a couple weeks.

Or months.

I have been tossing this idea around for a couple years.

And now I’m seriously considering it.

Here’s why.

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past year.

Thinking about our financial situation.

About what I want to do with my life.

About finding fulfillment.

And some degree of balance.

Public schools are no longer balanced.

Not even close.

There is no time for creativity.

Children are not given opportunities to develop their strengths.

All of our focus is going into working on the things they suck at.

So they meet a goal in those areas on a test.

Don’t get me wrong. If a kid can’t read, or write, or add, or subtract that needs to be fixed.

But you can’t drill a kid into the ground for 7 hours a day.

And then send more drills home.

And do that for 12 years.

And then release them into the world and tell them to follow their dreams.

Twelve years of pounding a bunch of useless, standardized crap into kids’ heads does not teach them balance.

It teaches them to do something they hate over and over and over.

Until they fucking lose it.

And then, as adults, when we inevitably do fucking losing it, we seek the help of a professional.

Who will tell us that yes, hard work is important.

But that we need to make time to exercise.

We need to meditate.

Take care of our mental health.

We need to spend time with friends.

We need to do something that makes us happy.

Something we are passionate about.

We need a hobby.

We need down time.

We need…

balance.

And so, with half of our lives already behind us, we might start doing whatever it is that we love — we follow our dreams.

Well I don’t want to do that to my kids.

I want them to do what makes them happy starting…

NOW.

That doesn’t mean all fun and games.

But my kids are not really being encouraged, guided, or taught to be productive, innovative, and compassionate members of society in school.

The are being taught to be robots.

I think all public schools are in trouble and moving in the wrong direction.

And I’m not even talking about the school shootings.

 

Two years ago, if you had told me we’d need a police officer in an elementary school, in suburban Connecticut, I’d have said you were crazy.

Then 20 first graders were gunned down six miles from my house.

Last week, in a different Connecticut town, a high school student was stabbed repeatedly and killed.

In her high school.

Who do I blame for this downward spiral?

Parents.

Sure, there are still good parents out there who have expectations and standards.

Who impose consequences and limits on their children.

Even when it’s really hard to do that.

Even when their kids are relentless in their attempts to wear them down.

But then there are the other parents.

The ones who can’t handle the responsibilities of being a parent.

Or worse, who just don’t.

They refuse to take a look at themselves, and they look to blame anyone they can.

They sue teachers and principals and school districts.

They make excuses for their kids and argue over grades and enable their children and wear teachers down to the point where they quit their jobs.

They bury their head in the sand rather than get help for their kid.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a kid in therapy than a kid in,

um,

jail.

Or the ground.

And this has caused public education to deteriorate to a place where I am beginning to feel irresponsible sending my children to school.

The parents who don’t want to take responsibility are now affecting my children.

They are affecting the quality of my children’s education. And their lives in general.

And that is not okay with me.

For the past couple years I have been counting down the time until all the kids were in school.

Where I would have a little more time to do the things I’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had the time to do.

Homeschooling wasn’t exactly a part of my master plan.

But as a parent I need to do what is in the best interest of the kids.

Number 4 has been asking me to teach her how to sew.

She actually just asked again this morning.

“Mommy? When are you going to teach me how to sew?”

Well, as soon as I finish helping you finish these ten packet pages requiring you to write a master’s thesis to explain how you came up with your fucking answer.

So when am I going to teach her to sew?

That’s a good question.

Because there’s not much time left once she gets home from school.

What about the other things we don’t have time for?

Things that I think really matter?

Because I want her to learn how to play piano.

And the guitar.

I want her to know how to knit and cook and play chess and change a tire and use a hammer.

I want her to learn more than one language.

I want to teach her the importance of giving back. Volunteering. Taking care of her mental health.

Of pushing herself out of her comfort zone, both physically and mentally.

I want her to learn that she is always a work in progress.

That she is not done working once she scores a certain number on a stupid test.

That she is capable of doing anything.

That she has the ability,

and the right,

to follow her dreams and do what makes her happy.

And I don’t want to make her wait 40 years to do it.

 

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