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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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Long Term, At-Home, Elementary School Projects Are Bullsh*t

If you have a kid in first grade, then you and your child (but mostly you) may have just completed the (fucking) 1ooth Day of School Project.

This project, along with every other long-term project that teachers assign to students to do at home, is bullshit.

It’s not just the 100th Day of School Project.

It’s all of them.

In elementary and middle school, anyway.

Because what is the point of these projects? Why are they assigned?

To teach children how to manage their time? To teach children how to do research? To teach children the different phases of brainstorming, planning, and executing a project?

I believe those are the goals. And they are great goals. They are certainly necessary life skills.

But six-year-olds have not learned these things yet. Neither have most nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds.

And let’s be honest.

There are two types of long-term projects assigned to students to do at home that come into school: the ones that are completed by the parents, and the ones that are completed by the students.

And approximately 97% of all projects fall into that first group.

I know because I taught 4th grade for six years, and sixth grade for three years.

It did not take long to realize that close to 100% of projects that were assigned to be done at home were not being completed by the students.

What a waste of time and energy, both for teachers and parents.

I was evaluating work that wasn’t the kids’ and the parents were ripping their fucking hair out, or going psycho trying to make sure they outdid the other parents in the class.

It was stupid. And pointless.

So I stopped assigning projects to be done at home.

And we started doing them in school.

Because the other thing didn’t take me long to realize was that the kids in my class had absolutely no idea how to manage a project.

They didn’t know how to research. They didn’t know how to plan. They didn’t know how to figure out what supplies they would need. They didn’t know how to determine if the idea they had in their head was feasible or reasonable. They didn’t know how to budget time. They didn’t know how spatially plan out a poster. They didn’t know how to use the computer to print out graphics or to change the font type or size and print out headings or text for their project. They didn’t know how to do much of anything independently.

And that was when it became clear that the real need wasn’t in ensuring that the kids came into school on the due date with a kick ass project that looked like it was professionally done.

It was in learning how to do all the stuff that leads up to that.

You know, the whole journey and not the destination thing.

So I broke the project down into steps, and I taught them how to do each one in school.

I helped the kids who were struggling. I challenged the ones who “got it” right away.

If there were kids who fucked around in class and didn’t get much work done, well, that was reflected in their final grade.

That didn’t happen too often, because when the kids were invested in what they were doing, they were a little more motivated to try.

Some kids’ projects were better than others.

But they all looked like fourth grade students did them, and not like 42-year-old parents did them.

Which is how it should be.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no justification for requiring children under the age of ten to complete long-term, at home projects.

Not even “an opportunity for family bonding.”

If I want to bond with my seven-year-old, it’s not gonna be like that.

If you want to offer that as an optional assignment for kids to do at home, if you want to give that as one suggestion in a list for families who are looking for more ways to bond with their kids, fine. Go for it.

But don’t tell me how to spend quality time with my kid. Don’t require me to “bond” with my kid over a heritage project. Don’t try to disguise a pointless assignment that ultimately teaches the kid nothing about the process of long-term planning as a bonding exercise.

There is no bonding going on here at my house when I do the 100th Day of School Project.

There is a lot of heavy eye rolling, sighing, and crying. The kids get upset, too.

And yes. I meant “I”.

Because I did most of this “project.”

Why?

Because I think it’s a waste of time.

While other parents kids were making intricate and detailed collections and presentations on tri-fold posterboard and other stuff that no six-year-old could do independently, I printed out a picture of a gumball machine and drew 100 little circles in it.

My kid?

He colored it in.

That’s it.

It’s a joke compared to what most of his classmates did.

But I don’t care.

Because I don’t believe a six-year-old should have any homework to begin with. And I certainly don’t think a six-year-old should be assigned something which requires skills he hasn’t been taught yet in order to complete it.

But I do believe this is a great way to introduce the basic concepts of how to do a long term project in school.

Break the project down into components, and teach those skills. In the classroom.

  • Have the class brainstorm a list of “things” they could collect. Determine which objects are reasonable and which are not.
  • Brainstorm ways in which these collections could be presented.
  • Divide the class into four or five groups.
  • Have the groups choose one item to display and one way in which to display it.
  • Guide groups who are having trouble agreeing. Offer solutions for ways to come to an agreement. (You are teaching communication, cooperation, and problem solving)
  • Figure out how many of those items each child must bring into school. (Now you’ve incorporated math into the lesson!)
  • Once the groups have decided on their object, come back to a whole group. Discuss what jobs each group will need to do in order to complete their project. (Now you are teaching planning.)
  • Group members choose jobs. (More communication, cooperation, planning, and possibly compromising).
  • Help kids plan out what projects will look like. Where the title goes. What information is important to include. Give kids time to work together on projects.
  • Present projects to the class! (Now you are teaching presentation and public speaking skills)!

The kids have learned, among other things, math, problem solving, planning, cooperation, delegation, communication, responsibility, and public speaking skills. And they are one step closer to  knowing how to complete a long-term project independently.

I can tell you for sure that my kid learned, um, zero of those when he was coloring in 100 gumballs last night.

And if the kids aren’t ready developmentally to learn those skills?

Well… um… that’s easy.

Then don’t assign the fucking project.

 

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If it isn’t my kid, it’s gonna be someone else’s.

About a week ago, I received a message from a woman I have never met.

She informed me that although Number 4 had actually spoken to her daughter, she had told a couple of her daughter’s friends that Santa Claus wasn’t real, and then she continued with, “I was hoping maybe you could ask her to please stop telling kids that if they believe in Santa they are stupid.  Telling Number 4 was what you believe was the right thing to do for her -I have chosen to tell my daughter when I feel she needs to know – it is not up to Number 4 to do so. She has not said it directly to my daughter but has said it to a couple of her friends and this sent them home in tears.”

Whoah.

This message kind of pushed me over the edge last week.

I know Number 4 often has no filter and she tells it like she sees it and she doesn’t hold back.

But I was kind of shocked by this message.

I also know all kids are jerks sometimes, so I had to keep an open mind that Number 4 really could have said all those things.

But I really didn’t think that was probably exactly how the conversation actually went down.

I fired back as restrained a reply as I could muster, but I’ll admit.

I was fucking pissed at this woman. especially since her child wasn’t even involved in  whatever conversation took place between Number 4 and these other girls.

She apologized right away for having sent, the message.

And I know where she was coming from. I get it.  This is one of those milestones parents don’t look forward to.

Later I spoke with Number 4 about what I had been told.

She was in tears immediately. And not because she had been caught in a lie.

She adamantly defended herself telling me she never called anyone stupid.

She could still be lying.

But I don’t think she is. I can tell when she’s lying most of the time. And when she does, it doesn’t take long for her to come around and be honest with me about what really happened.

I believe she was telling me the truth.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter.

The point of this post isn’t really to defend Number 4. Or myself.

The point of this post is to give parents a reality check.

Number 4 is ten years old.

A couple weeks ago, she asked me if Santa Claus was real.

She is an extremely bright and perceptive kid.

If I had lied to her, she would have known.

And I knew, that in her case, I had to be honest with her. If I wasn’t, she would know, and she would question anything else I ever told her in the future.

So I told her this story.

She wasn’t angry.

She wasn’t upset.

Her response was,

“I KNEW IT!”

Anyway, after I told her that story, I also asked her not to say anything to her siblings or her friends.

Back to the point of this post.

Number 4, like I said, is ten years old and in fifth grade.

She is in middle school, and she rides the bus with fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

Last year, when she was nine, she learned what a blow job was from an overeducated twelve-year-old in the locker room after swim practice.

If you have nine or ten or eleven-year old kid who is around other children of the same age or older, they are going to hear stuff from other kids.

Lots of stuff.

Stuff you don’t want them knowing about for years.

You must also be aware that if you have a ten-year-old kid who asks his or her friends if they believe in Santa Claus (which is actually what happened with Number 4), their friends may reply with an answer that you don’t want them to hear.

It’s the way things go. It’s life.

You can’t control what other kids are going to say to your children.

The only thing you can do is be prepared.

So no.

I don’t want my kid to be the a-hole who ruins the myth of Santa Claus for all of your children.

But even after I told her the story how Santa Claus came to be and that he was, in fact, a real person at one point, and then when I asked her to maybe respond to the question “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” with I believe in the magic of Christmas, and leave it at that, Number 4 said to me,

“MOM! IF SOMEONE ASKS ME WHAT I THINK, I’M NOT GOING TO LIE TO THEM!”

Ugh.

So I tried my best to explain how being sensitive to other people’s feelings is not exactly the same as lying. And how we are really all Santa Claus.

I don’t know if she got it or not.

She said to me, “Mom, I believe that all things can be backed by scientific evidence.”

What?  I don’t know if that comes from school or not.

And what ten-year-old even says that shit?

I told her that I definitely believe in miracles. That a couple years ago, when we didn’t know how we were going to buy food, let alone Christmas presents, I went to the mailbox one day and when I opened it, there were two gift cards from an anonymous person totaling  $500.

I told her that was Santa Claus right there.

She said, “Mom, if my friends still believe in Santa when they are grown ups, their kids will wake up on Christmas morning and bawl their brains out because there will be no presents under the tree because parents need to buy them.”

Oy.

She continued. “And what about that song Feed the World? They need to know that there are kids in Africa who don’t even know it’s Christmas. They don’t even have water, Mom! If Santa were real, he would not forget all the kids in Africa. It doesn’t make sense, Mom. He would at least  give them food so they weren’t starving!”

Double Oy.

Again, I tried to explain to her about understanding where other kids and parents are coming from. How some kids really want (or even need) to believe in Santa. And I explained to her how one of the biggest joys at Christmas is to be a parent and to see your children innocently and  truly believe and how it’s something you want to hold onto as long as you can because your kids grow up so quickly.

Who knows.

Maybe the next time someone asks her if she believes in Santa she’ll be more tactful.

I hope so.

But I’m not counting on it.

And I know she’s not the only one.

A friend of mine has a daughter in third grade who no longer believes in Santa after a kid in her class spilled the beans.

That’s the reason I was honest with Number 4.

If she’s going to hear the truth, I wanted her to hear it from me.

Not from a kid on the bus or a kid in the cafeteria or a kid in the locker room. And now that she’s in middle school, everything is pretty much fair game. There’s not protecting her from what the other kids say.

Whether that kid who feels the need to reveal the truth is doing it to be a dick or because she is genuinely concerned that her friends will grow up to be parents and their kids won’t have any  Christmas presents on Christmas morning doesn’t matter.

It’s gonna happen.

Your kids are going to learn all sorts of stuff you don’t think they are ready to learn from other kids.

It’s how my brother learned the f-word and subsequently carved it into the hardwood floor of my parents’ bedroom when he was five.

It’s how Number 5 learned about blow jobs.

And it’s how your kid could very likely learn the truth about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy or just about anything else.

So consider yourself warned.

And if an opportunity to tell your kid the truth about something before you really wanted to presents itself, you might want to seize it.

Because as much as I’d like to, I can’t guarantee that my kid (or someone else’s) isn’t going to beat you to the punch.

 

 

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How does that saying about worrying go again?

I’m a little stressed.

Number 7, as you know, is a spirited child.

And as I’ve said before, you never know which Number 7 is gonna show up. Sometimes it’s tough Number 7. Sometimes it’s funny Number 7. Sometimes it’s helpful Number 7.  Sometimes it’s stubborn Number 7. Sometimes it’s cuddly Number 7.

And since she’s a bit of a wild card, I never know exactly how seriously to take some of her behaviors.

Very often when I talk to her, she replies with “What?”

I have noticed this for a while now.  I can’t say how long, but definitely a couple years.

And I’ve chalked it up to her being  young and a little bit crazy and distracted at times, and also to her possessing the ability to know exactly how to annoy the crap out of the people.

But in my gut, this constantly needing things to be repeated has bothered me.

Back in March when she had her four-year-old physical (five months late), I was worried about her hearing test. I thought there was a good chance the doctor would tell me there was a problme with her hearing.

She passed the test, though.

I was relieved, but I still felt like I should have mentioned something. Because something just seems off.

But I didn’t because, well, I don’t know. I just didn’t.

Yesterday Number 7 came home from school and handed me an envelope labeled “To the Parents of Number 7.”

I opened it up.

Number 7 failed the hearing screening at school.

Twice.

You should take her to be evaluated by your pediatrician…

Ugh.

I’m not surprised.  There is an issue. I know there is.

I’ve known it’s due to more than her just personality for a while.

I know it could be something as simple as wax build up.

I know it could be allergies causing her ears to have fluid in them.

It could be a number of things that are fairly harmless and easily fixable.

But I’m afraid they aren’t.

And in the past twenty-four hours, I’ve conjured up every horrible scenario I can think of.

I went to high school with a kid who got a degenerative eye disease. In elementary school he could see, and by the time he was in high school he was completely blind.

Of course he went on to be the only blind person to scale Mount Everest — his name is Erik Weihenmayer and he’s totally inspiring and amazing and you should read all about him here — and  he’s done more incredible things than most sighted people I know.

But  I also had the same issue with my baby brother.

At eighteen months old he went into the hospital to have tubes put in his ears.

And while he was there, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

And a year-and-a-half after that, he was dead.

So I guess it’s understandable how my mind might go there.

But I mean, what are the odds of that shit happening? Of it being something really awful?

I think they are small.

But isn’t it funny how our minds automatically go to the worst possible scenario?

I mean, I have literally been wondering if there have ever been any deaf swimmers in the Olympics.

I go from Your daughter failed her hearing test to Number 7 has a degenerative hearing loss that will leave her completely deaf and destroy her Olympic swimming career.

The fact that Number 7 has never expressed a desire to go to the Olympics but I’m concerned about how this may affect her chances there (plus the fact that she’s only five) is a whole different issue.

But it’s crazy how we do this, isn’t it?

How we go to the most awful extreme?

And it’s not just me, is it?

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Anyway, I’ve already scheduled an appointment for her.

But I’m still freaking out a little bit.

Or a lot.

Depending on how far I let my brain go before I snap out of it and reel myself back in.

So I could use your help.

I could use all your stories about any of your kids who failed school hearing tests and you took them to the doctor and they were screened again and everything was fine.

THOSE ARE THE ONLY STORIES I WANT TO HEAR.

No horror stories. No We thought everything was fine and then we found out everything was not fine but we survived stories.

I need help redirecting my brain and not worrying about things I can’t control. And I need to stay positive.

And also, if you have a minute, I could use a bunch of prayers and good vibes. Especially around 2:15 tomorrow afternoon.

Ugh!

Now I’m sitting here crying! It is so easy to just fucking lose your shit over this stuff.

Okay.

I’m sure everything is going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay, right?

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY.

I’ll keep you posted.  But I sure could use a little support.

Or a lot.

 

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