One simple thing you can do to make your house safer for your teens

You would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the opioid crisis here in the US. In addition to opioids, teens have been known to get into prescription drugs (and even over-the-counter drugs such as Nyquil and cough syrups) looking for a free, easy high.

Its very easy to overlook these articles and bypass these stories, thinking “my kid would never…” but rest assured that many parents of those kids thought the exact same thing.

So today I urge you to do one simple thing to make your house safer for your teens-

Lock up your prescription medicine and any potentially dangerous over-the-counter medicines in a safe.

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It’s easier than you think. I ordered my medicine safe on Amazon for under $40. My husband, who is not particularly handy, installed it in minutes. I wouldn’t describe this particular safe as heavy-duty but we don’t have many prescription drugs in our home so this fits our needs. There are many more larger, more substantial safes on the market. Find one that fits the needs of your home and order it today.

This is a no-brainer. I hope and pray that it will never by “my kid” or “your kid” but it is always someone’s kid so lets take that extra step of precaution to keep them safe.

*This post may include affiliate links which means if you chose to buy something I mention, please do so using the links above. There is no additional cost to you and it’s a nice way to say thank you and help offset this Mom’s addiction to Amazon Prime*

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Juuling Basics- A MUST READ for anyone who has a child in middle/high school

I find myself envying my parents more and more these days when it comes to raising teenagers. Gone are the days when your child would come home and you could give them the once over- pull them close and give them a good sniff- and detect if they’ve been smoking cigarettes or pot. E- cigarettes, AKA vaping, AKA Juuling, has taken smoking to a whole new level.

The Basics (taken from E-cigarettes and vaping: Everything you need to know)

  • E-cigarettes are battery operated inhalers that consist of a rechargeable battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the device.
  • Vaping is defined as the act of inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer or electronic cigarette. When users draw on the device, the battery heats the liquid, which is then atomized into an inhalable vapor.
  • Juul is a specific, very popular type of vaporizer.

So in essence when you hear about “Juuling”, you are hearing about vaping and e-cigarettes.

 

What You Need To Know

What it looks like…

 

 

 

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A Juul looks just like a USB drive and could very easily be overlooked or mistaken for something else. They also sell skin decal wraps in the most popular brands.

What it smells like…

The vapor from Juul smells super, super sweet. I’m talking toothache sweet. If your child is Juuling, you may be able to pick up the fruity scent on them. They come in flavors such as creme brulee, mango, and fruit medley. Kids are Juuling in school (bathrooms, cafeterias, even in the classrooms! because there is no scent of smoke and the vapor disappears in an instant.

Why it’s dangerous…

Kids are under the very wrong impression that juuling is not dangerous. While it’s true, e-cigarettes and Juul do not have tobacco, they do have nicotine. In fact, one juul pod has as much nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes.

Another danger is the possibility of something called popcorn lung. Diacetyl (which is found in Juul) is a buttery flavored chemical. “When inhaled, diacetyl causes bronchiolitis obliterans – more commonly referred to as “popcorn lung” – a scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. While the name “popcorn lung” may not sound like a threat, it’s a serious lung disease that causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, similar to the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” (taken from Popcorn Lung: A Dangerous Risk of Flavored E-Cigarettes)

It’s also important to note that these devices can be modified to use THC oil. A quick search on youtube and your child will know how to if he/she has the desire.

 

The most dangerous thing of all, in my opinion, is that the same kids who think cigarettes are disgusting think juuling is cool. It literally checks all the boxes- it looks “cool”, it smells good, it tastes good and it charges like all of their other devices. Boys, especially, are very into doing tricks with the vapor and even have instagram accounts set up to document it all.

What’s a parent to do?

Stay informed. Talk to your kids- A LOT. Do spot checks on their phones (when you check their phones, make sure to check their pictures and screenshots) and every now and again, give a quick look in their rooms/backpacks. Make sure they know how dangerous juuling is and that it is addictive. Good luck- we all need it!

Think your kid is Juuling? Pick up a nicotine test kit.

 

College Move-In- What You Need To Know

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The decision has been made! Wahooooooooo!                So now what?!

I can’t believe it’s been six months since my oldest decided where she was going to go to school. It both feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago, which speaks to how busy the last few months have been. Here you’ll find some tips on what to do as soon as the big decision has been made, the best way to tackle move-in for out-of-state parents and some great dorm extras.

First things first, do these 3 things RIGHT AWAY!

  • Pay deposit for school AND housing ASAP if you haven’t done so already (I suggest paying the housing deposit on your child’s top two as soon as they get in)
  • Book hotel and flights (if necessary) for move-in and Parents’ Weekend. Hotels in college towns book quickly and prices go through the roof!
  • Join the university’s parent groups on Facebook. They are a tremendous resource.

The Prep

For us, shopping before hand wasn’t an option since we were flying to Tallahassee from Connecticut. This caused me great deal of stress in the months leading up to move-in because I couldn’t wrap my head around how this would work, logistically speaking. After countless hours planning and organizing, here is what worked for us.

First, we did something called a “pack and hold” at our local Bed, Bath and Beyond and chose the pick up location to be a store close to her school. We waited until their college event because they offer you a 20% off your entire order coupon which can be used again and again until October 1st (as you can imagine, that was a God send!). The great thing is you can add anything and everything to your list and then, when you go to pick up, you can decide what you still wanted and what you no longer needed (you pay when you pick up).

When we flew down, my daughter packed in three large duffles. She brought a lot of clothes and shoes and a handful of personal items. We also had a few things that we had picked up for the dorm because either they didn’t have at Bed, Bath and Beyond or she just really liked it (I also hid away her “Open when…” cards and gifts in a small storage ottoman). She did not bring any toiletries because we planned on buying everything there. We also placed a large order to DormCo for their desk hutch, a mini-refrigerator shelf and some other random things. I set this up to be delivered to the UPS store on campus and then paid a small fee to have them deliver it directly to the dorm.

 

We arrived in Tallahassee the day before move-in. After checking into our hotel, we picked up everything at BBB and then did a major Target run for everything that was still on our list. The car was packed and we were exhausted after a day of travel and lots and lots of shopping. We washed all her bed sheets and blankets in the hotel so they would be ready to put on the bed the next day.

The Day is Finally Here 🙂 😦

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Unfortunately, my daughter got stuck in the oldest and smallest dorm on campus. In order to make the best of the situation, I watched many “dorm tours” of her particular dorm on youtube to see how kids had it set up (just go to youtube and type in the name of the college and the particular dorm and it most likely will pop right up). This was a life saver!

When we entered the room, we knew exactly what to expect and how we planned on arranging the beds. I had ordered a carpet from the school so it was waiting in the room for us. My husband started to arrange the beds and put together stuff and I put on my gloves and started cleaning the bathroom.

There were a few things we didn’t expect and that we forgot so an additional Target run and BBB run were necessary- plan on that.

With a lot of time spent online (if you’re not familiar with Pinterest, now is a good time to check it out) and some hard work and $$, we managed to turn a very small, blahhh room into something cozy, comfortable, and perfect for our girl.

 

 

Dorm Extras

You can easily find a million lists of the necessities to pack for college so I’m only going to mention the “extras” that I thought were really helpful or just very nice 🙂

 

Tapestries (Urban Outfitters has a ton to chose from) and lights are also a must these days. Since her closet did not have doors (WTH?), we used a pole and a shower curtain and it worked great.

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Finally, this “snack hack” using an over-the-door shoe organizer was a big hit from the moment it was filled 🙂 (this is the pic she sent me today- I’m loving that they keep it filled!)

I won’t even begin to get into the emotional aspect of move-in day- that’s another post for another day!

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Cyberbullying- Could Your Child be a Target? (Guest Post!)

Today’s post comes to you from Laura Pearson. Laura created Edutude – she believes that every student has great potential and aims to help as many as possible unlock it. She also strives to find unique, creative ways for parents and educators to encourage students to be challenged, motivated and excited by learning.

Parents: Say No to Cyberbullying

There are plenty of times when kids should be left on their own to figure life out for themselves. For parents of children who are being cyberbullied, now is not the time for kids to be kids.
With the increasing prevalence of technology playing critical roles in children’s lives, parents must be aware of how to help their child avoid being cyberbullied and, if they are already, how to provide solutions that will cease the torment. This is especially true for parents who have recently moved, their child being rendered the “new kid in town,” which often makes them an easy target for bullies.

Prevention: The First Goal

If possible, parents should aim to prevent any instances of cyberbullying before they arise. The Cyber Bully Hotline suggests several strategies for preventing cyberbullying. While many pertain to instances of cyberbullying that have already occurred, it’s important for parents to be proactive in monitoring their child’s use of technology.

This means consistently enforcing rules about when a child can be on their phone or computer for the use of social media. While cyberbullying can’t be completely stymied through limited usage, the message inherent to these limitations goes deeper. Considering a McAfee study, which found that 87% of students ages 11 to 15 at one school had witnessed cyberbullying, it’s clear that the problem is virtually unavoidable. This means parents must fortify their own child so that they won’t be prone to the often-crippling effects that cyberbullying can have.

Children put far more stock in the perceptions of their peers than adults. For this reason, teaching a child that their worth shouldn’t be determined by the masses but instead by their true friends and family is crucial, and reinforcement of this message is never too frequent. For children who have recently moved, the home may be the only source of familiarity available, making the fostering of positivity all the more critical.

Start at Home

First and foremost, it’s important that home is a safe zone. Particularly when moving to a new city, it’s imperative to take the time to create a stress-free environment. This allows a child to have a place where they feel comfortable and safe, especially during such a rough transition as moving to a new school.

The greatest asset a parent can have in ensuring their child suffers no true harm as the result of cyberbullying is communication. Livestrong.com notes many of the benefits for children who live in a household with strong communication. These benefits include increased self-esteem, an ability to share feelings and emotions maturely, a decrease in “acting out,” and greater listening skills. All of these benefits can help a child develop a strong sense of self and the ability to confidently combat bullies in person, decreasing the chances of being persistently picked on.

A child who personifies a strong sense of self stands a better chance of understanding that bullies are not rational and that their words are not to be assigned any value. This type of child is equipped to succeed in any environment, which is why families who move to a new town must ensure that active communication throughout the move and after relocation is consistently practiced.

If a child does experience cyberbullying, they’re more likely to speak to their parents about the issue if household communication is strong. HASA notes that good communication in the home prepares a child to withstand even greater issues. Still, parents should make it clear that the child is not on their own and that should an issue arise, parents can intervene for the better without embarrassing the child.

When Problems Arise

If a parent finds out their child has experienced a form of cyber-torment, they should first talk to the child. Asking the child to be honest, probe whether the bullying is consistent, or whether it was a one-time instance that has not recurred.

If the problem is persistent, and the bully is known, a call by one or both parents to the offending child’s parent may be the quickest way to nip the problem in the bud. If the bully’s parent is not receptive to counseling and/or disciplining the child, any evidence of cyberbullying should be documented and brought to school administrators’ attention.

As stated, bullying is nearly unavoidable. When a student is different, whether due to their appearance, mannerisms, interests, or their status as new kid on the block, they can be particularly prone to being victimized. But parents can negate the potential damage of cyberbullying by maintaining open lines of communication and an atmosphere of safety and security at home. Not only will this enable a child to shake off the malevolence of self-loathing bullies, but also to feel comfortable disclosing any persistent issues to their parents. A strong mind is a strong child, and molding that strong mind starts at home.

Parenting in the Age of Social Media

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Social Media. For me personally, and I’m guessing many others, I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I love being able to keep up with friends and family all over the world and I love the wealth of information I gain from Facebook groups and by following topics of interest on Instagram. I love connecting with my kids on Snapchat and seeing snipets of their days.

I hate how it takes “keeping up with the Joneses” to an entirely new level and how we only see the highlight reels of everyone’s lives (for the most part). I hate how exclusion is now very much in our faces and how we thrive off of likes and comments on posts.

Regardless of how we feel, here we are. It’s 2017 and parenting through the age of social media is tough and it sometimes feels as though it’s impossible to keep up. Here are the basics as of September 2017; I’m sure I will need to update this again soon.

Social Media Accounts

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The big two- Instagram and Snapchat

If you have a tween or teen, you need to have these two accounts. There are various opinions regarding how much you should get involved in your child’s social media life (more on that to come) but I feel strongly that at the very least you need to have these apps so you know how they work.

Instagram– an app/site where you can post pictures. This, like many apps and websites, has evolved and will continue to evolve both in the features of the site AND how the kids use it. Today, I will be focusing on how 13-16 year olds tend to use these sites.

It is not uncommon for middle schoolers and high schoolers to have THOUSANDS of followers. Where kids used to post pics all the time, that has changed (they use snapchat for that now) and Insta is now more like a digital photo album- only the best, usually heavily filtered and edited, pictures get posted. The caption is very important and usually very clever (although most kids find these online so they aren’t even their own). When a picture is posted, the amount of likes and comments are watched like a hawk and if they aren’t getting the number of likes they expect, the picture may come down. It is very common for friends to comment multiple times to show their love. “Tagging” friends in pictures can be a very big deal. Friends expect tags even if they’re not in the picture and the position of the tag is also very important (many kids layer tags upon tags so you only see the top ones, hence being able to give many friends the tag but only the best friends’ names will show). I’m guessing at this moment you’re thinking this sounds stupid and complicated AND IT IS but this is a very, very big deal in a middle schooler’s life so if you want to stay in touch with what your child’s going through, you must keep up. Being left out of a picture by not getting a tag is equivalent to getting snubbed- it’s subtle but it sends a big message. Girls will then ask for a tag and the girl who left the tag off now has the power. (If you haven’t read Queen Bees and Wannabes you absolutely must). She can either be nice and say she forgot and add the tag or further complicate the situation and ignore the asker completely (read more about girls and social media here)

To further complicate your life, many kids also have a “Finsta”, which stands for “Fake Insta”. This is a more “fun” page where they will post funny, silly, random pictures to be viewed by only a select group of friends. These finstas have also been know to be used for bullying since most parents don’t know anything about them.

Snapchat a site where you can share quick pics that disappear within 24 hours. There is no “wall” or even a page like FB or Insta that you can go to to see your child’s account. The closest thing to that is on the main page where you can see peoples’ “stories”.

I’ll do a quick breakdown to explain how it’s used—

  • I take a picture. I can send it to an individual person or post on my story for all my friends to see (or both).
  • If I send you a picture everyday and you send me one back everyday, after 3 days we will have a “streak”. The more we communicate with each other, the longer the streak, thus highlighting our level of friendship. As you can see, streaks are very important (no one wants to lose a streak!).
  • Important things that I want everyone to see (pics or videos from a party, fun outing or plans with friends), I post on your story, much like I’d post on FB or Insta, except these will disappear after 24 hours.
  • Filters are fun.
  • If I open a picture, I am supposed to send one back right way, otherwise I “boxed” that person (this is a key difference between how older people and younger people use Snapchat- my college aged kid couldn’t care less about “boxing” but it’s important to my 14 year old). Kids will snap back pictures of the ground or other things that don’t even show anything just to “snapback”. This is strange to me but seems to make sense to middle schoolers.

An important note about Snapchat- kids these days are not texting much anymore; instead, they use Snapchat to message each other. It’s just like texting except it disappears, just like the pictures.

New, Very Dangerous Social Media Accounts

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Sarahah– It seems like the awful, anonymous apps just won’t go away. When my oldest was younger, it was askfm. Now it’s Sarahah. The appeal is strong to middle schoolers because it runs on the premise that you can get feedback anonymously. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how dangerous this can be and how quickly it turns mean and encourages online bullying. The day I read about it and shared an article on FB warning other parents, I saw a story on my daughter’s snapchat that said, “swipe up” with her Sarahah account info. Aaaahhhhh! I would not have seen this on her phone because it’s not an app but a site and if I hadn’t been on snapchat that day, I would have never known. The struggle is real. (More on Sarahah here)

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Omegle– Just read the description and you’ll know you’ll want your child to stay far, far away but unfortunately they’re using it. Taken from their website- “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.” Fantastic. Not too much to say about this one except to please speak to your kids about the dangers!

Other Social Media Accounts Worth Mentioning

Houseparty– A group video chat, much like Facetime or Skype except it’s with a group of people. This can be relatively harmless if your child is doing it with friends they know. The only downside is that kids can kick out others or “lock” the Houseparty which can lead to feelings of exclusion.

Musical.ly– Where kids can take video of themselves lip-syncing and dancing and share with “friends”. The premise is cute but make sure to monitor the content AND who’s has access to watch your child dance.

Facebook– not really a thing for the kids these days. My older daughter uses it to read and share articles and for the FB groups. My 14 year old has an account but zero interest

Twitter– More for older teens and adults.

Vine– Not relevant anymore since Snapchat and Instagram now have videos.

Parenting in the Digital Age

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So now that I’ve given you the 411, what should you do? How do we parent in this new, digital age?

I’ve come up with a few ideas that help but I am also the first to say that this could be a full time job and if you have a child who’s into all this, as most are, they will most likely find a way around many of your rules. I’m always looking for more help in this area so if you have any tips that work, please share in the comments section below.

  1. Stay informed and aware. Know the apps your child is using. Use them yourself so you understand how they work. Personally, I believe you should be “friends” and “follow” your child on any site their using. In our house, this is rule- if you’re on a site, I must be able to access it. ***Disclaimer- I have caught my daughter “blocking” me and hiding posts. She is not perfect and does not follow my rules 100% of the time. However, when she is caught, there are consequences and learning opportunities.

       2. Have parental controls set so your child cannot download any app without your                approval. This will allow you to check out new apps before your child uses them.                ***Disclaimer- this doesn’t work on websites.

       3. Have rules in place regarding cell phones (see this post for a great contract)

       4. Have rules in place regarding social media. Listed below is a contract to get                           you started. Modify as needed but don’t be so quick to remove the parts                                 regarding pornography. I know this is a super uncomfortable topic but it is                           soooooo important to have these discussions with ANY CHILD over the age of 10                 (some would say even younger) that has access to the internet (see this post for                   tips about talking to your kids about online porn)

Social Media Contract

1.  I agree to keep my settings at “private” at all times.

2. I agree not to post any pictures of body parts. I will only post pictures of myself or friends if they include our faces. I understand this is not because there is anything wrong or shameful with any parts of my body, but that it is not healthy to sexualize myself to strangers as a young person.

3. I agree not to post sexualized images. This includes kissing of any kind, grabbing body parts or making sexual gestures of any kind. There is nothing wrong with being silly, but the Internet is not a safe place for young kids to be silly in a sexual way.

4. I agree to be respectful of myself and others in the words and images I use. This includes agreeing not to use social media to mock, tease, embarrass, gossip or reveal secrets.

5. I agree for safety not to reveal the specific place I am when I am there. For example, I will not post a picture saying “I am at the pool with a friend and then we are walking home.”

6. I agree to immediately tell an adult family member if I ever receive any threatening or sexual messages or images on any social channel.

7. I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person. I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching.

8. I agree to acknowledge that everything I put online is permanently available, even if it can be immediately deleted or hidden. I understand that people who know technology well can access images and words that have been deleted even if the app tells you otherwise. I understand that even private messages can be copied and pasted somewhere else. I understand that when I am grown and an adult, someone can look my name up and find every single thing I’ve ever put online. This includes bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, future family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.

9. I agree that when I am having family time, I will put away my devices, including my phone. This goes for the adults as well.

10. I agree that occasionally I will have Internet blackouts. This means that when I am showing signs of needing a tech break—such as lack of reading or creative activities, irritability, constantly pulling out my phone, unable to concentrate and not wanting to participate in family activities or time—my parents might ask that I stay off the Internet and my phone for a day or two.

11. I agree to be done with all tech including phone by 10pm nightly unless I have asked for and received an exception.

12. If I do not follow these agreements, I understand that I will lose my social media privileges for as long as my parents feel it is necessary. I understand that my parents love me more than anything in the world and create these boundaries out of that love.

The Craziness of Bar Mitzvah Year on the North Shore of Long Island

Congratulations, you made it! You survived the insanity that is known as Tennis Ladder Year. There should be a trophy of some sort- you certainly deserve it.

But before you can officially exhale, a nice big envelope arrives in the mail addressed to your child. Bar Mitzvah year is knocking on your door. I’d tell you not to answer but if you live on the North Shore of Long Island, you don’t really have a choice.

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The Basics

  • Some lucky parent back in 4th grade got the job of organizing a list that circulates throughout the grade so you can pick your child’s date three years later
  • There are anywhere from one to three Bar/Bat Mitzvahs (more commonly known as BMs) on any given weekend from May of 6th grade to November of 8th grade
  • Overlapping dates are a tough; there will be some but most parents try to switch dates especially if the kids are in the same friend group
  • Your child will be expected to go to the services of close friends even if they are during school hours (a parent who is going to the service will sign out a group of kids from school and take them to the temple and then bring them back to school)

Getting Ready (A Girl Mom’s Perspective)

If you have a daughter, I am so, so sorry.

You will need to buy more dresses than you could have imagined. Dresses for the services, dresses for day BMs and dresses for night BMs. Need I remind you shopping with a twelve or thirteen year old girl is hell. You will wonder what you did in a past life to deserve this kind of torture. Either they hate the kids department dresses they fit into or you hate the junior department dresses they fit into. There will be tears, yours and hers. You will swear up and down your daughter will not wear four inch heels or skin tight dresses. You most likely will cave at some point from sheer exhaustion.

The same goes for make-up and hair. I mistakingly thought twelve and thirteen year old girls don’t wear much makeup besides maybe some lip gloss or mascara. Silly me. I soon learned that many girls have their makeup and hair professionally done for these parties. Our local salons are filled with Tweens on Fridays and Saturdays getting blowouts for BMs. If you choose to say no to this as I did, be prepared from lots of pouting.

Carpool

Nine times out of ten your Tennis Ladder carpool turns in to your BM carpool. Dates are organized on an app such as Family Wall so parents in the carpool can sign up for dates to drive. When it is your turn to drive, the girls will most likely want to get ready together so most will get dropped off at your house around 5. You should them plan on ordering dinner because most kids don’t eat at the BMs (yes, you read that right- all that amazing food- sigh) You will then drive your carpool to the party and pick up, usually around midnight.

Gifts

  • Regular gifts (averages)- $18 if you are declining, $36 for random friends, $54 for close friends, $72 for camp friends. The check is sent back with the RSVP card. (Remember, 1-3 a weekend for over a year!!!)
  • B’nai Mitzvah – DOUBLE ($36 each kid – two separate checks if kid going, family of 3, $300 each (so yes a total of $600), family of 4, $400 each, family of 5, $500 each, ETC)
  • Family Gifts- Your family was invited- yay! Get your wallet ready- here is what is suggested (don’t shoot the messenger; personally, I give what I can) taken from Lulu & Lattes

-You and your spouse with 1 kid – $318, $354, $372, $400 (depending on level of friendship)

-You and your spouse with 2 kids – $400-$500

-You and your spouse with 3 kids – $500

-4+ kids (good luck, maybe try not to get invited…just kidding) $500+

-Your BFF – $418-518 (with your family)

  • Personalized Gifts- This is where your child makes a personal gift for the BM child. This may be a blanket, pillow or phone case with photos from a site such as Shutterfly or a handmade gift such as a wooden picture frame with pictures glued to it. Guests present these gifts to the BM child on camera so you can see how important making a personal gift can be.
  • Group Gifts- This is where a close friend hosts a group of kids over to work on a group gift for the BM child. Each child brings lots of pics and the host provides snacks. They may decorate a book shelf or a mini-fridge or make a scrapbook***. This is also presented at the BM so, again, getting in on the group gift is important too.

***The Scrapbook- this gift gets it own section. The idea is lovely; the process, not so much. One mother organizes a scrapbook for the BM child. This entails buying scrapbook pages, sending an email to all of the BM child’s friends’ moms, and leaving the pages for pick up outside your door. If you’re the mom in charge, you will need to also send additional reminders to pick up pages and then reminders to drop off pages and then you will need to organize said pages into a book. If your child is asked to make a page, and there can be as many as 3-4 a month, you will then need to pick up the page, upload pictures of your daughter and BM child to the drugstore to be printed, harass your child to complete the page, and then drop it back off.

  • The Jewelry Gift- This is a new one! This is where close friends chip in $50 each to get a special jewelry gift for the BM girl. Gifts include Hermes cuffs, David Yurman rings and replica Van Clef necklaces (that still cost close to $500).
  • Mitzvah Gift- As part of their BM, kids choose a charity, organization, or cause to work with. Sometimes it is volunteering their time, and other times it is raising money or collecting items. You may be asked to contribute towards their Mitzvah gift. If so, a donation of $36 is acceptable. 

The Swag

The swag is the stuff that the dancers throw out to the kids to keep them on the dance floor. Boring swag? The dance floor is likely to remain empty as kids would rather be on their phones. Some examples of good swag this year was Virtual Reality goggles, Fitbits, Beats, Ray Bans, jerseys, Kylie Lip Kits, blankets, sweatpants, and tank tops. Other notable swag this year has been custom air-brushed sneakers, custom air-brushed sweatpants, make-up personalized with the BM girl’s name and a lash bar (where girls could get fake lashes applied…not sure if that counts as swag but the girls certainly loved it!). When the lights go out for the “rave” portion of the night, sunglasses and glow in the dark rings, glasses and hats are passed out.

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Typical BM Socks

Socks play an important role at BMs- they are a must and have come to be expected. Because the girls are wearing heels they really have no business wearing, they can hardly walk, let alone dance. The moment the girls are done taking their pictures, the heels come off and the socks (given as a favor) go on. In lieu of socks this year, kids also received slides, flip flops, fuzzy slippers, and an Ugg-type boot at BMs.

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Typical BM Sweatshirt

The rest of the swag is waiting for the kids when they leave the party, most likely in a personalized bag of some type. 99% of the time it is a sweatshirt. The kids judge these sweatshirts on the softness and the design. It is a huge deal to wear these sweatshirts on the following Monday, so much that the schools have kindly asked on no less than ten occasions for students not wear them since it makes others who were not invited feel bad. Students (and parents) blatantly ignore this suggestion. If you do choose to follow it like I did, your child will be very upset with you because the BM child will likely be upset with them that they did not show up in the swag. Another battle you will fight and most likely lose.

BMs and Social Media

  • Posting a pic of the invitation on Snapchat the day it is received is one of the ways kids show their love for the BM child, usually with a caption like “So sickkkkk! Can’t wait to rage, bestie! LYSMYDEK”
  • Girls will do all sorts of countdowns for their friends (1 month, 1 week) on Instagram by posting a picture of the BM girl with a caption such as “1 week until we rage!”
  • A good Geo Tag on Snapchat is a must
  • Posting the entrance of the BM child on snapchat as their story is very popular and a way for kids show their friendship
  • Girls try to get an alone picture of themselves with the BM girl to post on Instagram the next day

What Makes a Good BM (according to the kids)

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Nope- not a nightclub or a rave, just a typical party my 13 year old attends roughly twice a week

 

In a nutshell, it’s the music, swag, and food at the end of the party.

One of the first decisions, after the date and location, is the entertainment. This includes the DJ, MC, and dancers. They really do set the tone for the party so it’s pretty important to get the right one. Dates are secured at least two years in advance. 

The swag was mentioned above so now lets discuss the food at the end of the party. As people are exiting, there is usually food of some sort set up in the lobby or there are food trucks outside. Shake Shack burgers, McDonalds, pizza or a set up similar to a convenience store or bakery where kids can grad as much candy, donuts, bagels, and muffins that they’d like were popular choices this year. Since the kids didn’t each much earlier, this is when they go crazy. Plus, candy. Need I say, more?

I must also note what makes a BM bad for your child- you attending. When parents are invited and attend, both parents and children will stare at each other, praying that the other is not doing anything embarrassing. It’s OK for parents to dance, but not near the kids (basically kids are on one part of the dance floor or the stage and the adults are on the other). It’s OK for you to take a picture with your child in front of the step and repeat but really, no more. Try not draw attention to yourself- no one wants to be that parent.

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Parents having a little too much fun

Tips and Lessons Learned

  • Decide before the first BM what your carpool will be doing for each other in terms of personal gifts, group gifts, and jewelry. Everyone should agree and be on the same page
  • Decide what you will do for the few girls who are not having a BM (not jewish or taking a trip instead)
  • Order dresses online from Bloomingdales and Nordstroms for your child to try on in the comfort of your home (good selection of dresses for services and great return policies)
  • Respond to RSVPs right away
  • Buy BM cards, crafts from Michaels, and photo paper to have on hand
  • It’s OK to say no to attending, especially when there are multiple BMs on a given weekend. I wish I would have realized this earlier- on a Sunday after 2-3 parties, the kids are EXHAUSTED. 

 

And that, my friends, is the low down on Bar Mitzvah year on the North Shore of Long Island. Hopefully knowing what to expect will make your journey a bit easier. Try to step back from the craziness long enough to appreciate the young man or woman your child is growing into, all dressed up and certainly having way more fun than you are!

Preparing for the College Application Process- A Timeline

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It’s crazy to say but I’m almost done with the getting-into-college process. My daughter will be making her decision in the next few weeks. She has already been accepted to two of her top choices so we are all breathing a little easier. I wanted to take some time while everything is fresh in my head to write down everything I’ve learned over the last few years during this often confusing process. This is a general timeline that I wish I would have had a few years ago. I hope it’s helpful!

Middle School

In middle school, your child’s grades (for the most part) won’t show up on their high school transcripts but this is the time when study habits are formed and  academic tracks are set. By now you should know what type of student your child is. Spend these years closing any gaps in their education, developing independent study skills and making sure they are on the right track, whatever track that may be. In the district where I live, all students begin a language in 6th grade so in 8th grade it’s considered an advanced level high school course, all students take Algebra in 8th grade and all are given the opportunity to take Earth Science, typically a 9th grade course (we have optional self-selection). Potentially three classes in middle school will appear on students’ high school transcripts. There is no doubt that taking Earth Science in 8th grade will put them on an advanced track for high school but many students are not ready and that’s perfectly OK. The door is not shut- they can still take honors/AP science classes down the road. A note on districts that allow self-selection for advanced classes- I highly recommend choosing classes based on teacher recommendations. If you are surprised or disagree with the teacher’s recommendation, speak to the teacher to understand why they feel the way they do. They may offer an insight that you don’t have. 

High School

9th and 10th grade-

  • Encourage your child to join many clubs and participate in many sports to see which ones they like. Basically, they should try out everything, especially if they don’t have a “thing”.
  • Familiarize yourself with which core classes are offered for each year and come up with a plan, knowing that your child may deviate from these courses.
  • Encourage your child to start building their relationship with their guidance counselor. You should as well.
  • Monitor grades very closely at the beginning of the year, especially in advanced classes. Be aware of the drop dates and level change dates.
  • Consider tutoring or test prep for regent exams because these grades will be on high school transcripts.
  • Plan your child’s summers for the next three years. As it was explained to me at a college workshop, your child has three summers to use to showcase their interests and passions.
  • At the end of 10th grade, your child should apply for leadership positions in the clubs and activities they like. Anyone can join a club but not everyone will hold a position.
  • Attend all college nights your school offers. Its valuable information that you can bank away.
  • Find out how many community service hours your child needs to graduate. Encourage them to get started.

Summer before 11th grade

  • Decide which standardized test your child will be taking. Gone are the days everyone took the SATs. The ACT is just as prevalent and one test might be a better fit for your child than the other. Make sure your child takes a practice test on both, compare scores and discuss with your child which one they preferred. Note- if the school doesn’t offer a practice ACT test, it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to take one at a local testing center.
  • Begin test prep. Will your child have private tutoring sessions? Join a group class? Take an online course? Decide now and begin.
  • Find out the SAT and ACT dates for the coming year. Write them down!

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11th grade-

  • The beginning of 11th grade (usually October) your child should take their first test. Register right away for the second test. Each test is scored differently so your child should plan on taking it at least twice. When registering for the tests, you have an option to send scores directly to schools. DO NOT DO THIS. Yes, it’s free and you can save a few bucks but you don’t want scores to be sent to any schools without you seeing them first.
  • Aim for finishing all standardized tests this year. 
  • With your child, begin compiling a list of potential schools. Some things to consider are in-state/out-of-state, public/private, distance from home, large/small school, city/rural, greek life, specialty programs, and graduate programs offered. After her Junior Conference (a conference with the student, parents, and guidance counselor- if your school doesn’t offer this, then I highly suggest you request one yourself) we added and subtracted a few schools from our original list. I then created a spreadsheet to organize the potential schools’ information. I made columns for average GPAs and test scores, rankings, tuition/room costs, and application deadlines. One thing that I wish I would have known is that many private schools with hefty tuition costs offer lots of merit aid. We then narrowed it down to two “safe” schools, two schools that were right at her level and two “reach” schools (we made these determinations by looking at average GPAs and test scores for admitted students). Then at the last minute, three more schools were added for various reasons, which I’m guessing is fairly common for most families.
  • Plan college visits. This is a great way to spend Spring Break trip during Junior year. Some schools do factor in demonstrated student interest in their decision so make sure to find out whether the schools your child are interested in looks favorably on visits and plan accordingly.

Summer Before Senior Year-

  • Encourage your child to complete their college application essay. Essay topics usually get released very early in the year. Check the Common App site for 2017/2018 prompts. In many schools, students work on an essay in their English class in 11th grade so your child may have an idea of what they’d like to write about. You can hire a specialty tutor to help your child with this but make sure they are guiding your child and not writing the essay for them. Admission officers say time and time again that they can tell when a student writes the essay versus an adult. High school English teachers often tutor students in this area so that may be a good place to start if you feel your child needs help.

12th Grade

  • As soon as possible, your child should apply to any schools with “rolling admissions”.
  • Aim to apply to all schools by November 1st if possible. My daughter managed to get four out of 8 done by 11/1. She is still waiting to hear back from the other four that were submitted after November 1st. Otherwise, she would have been able to make her decision by January! It’s tough waiting when many of your friends know where they will be going.
  • Your child should express interest in the college(s) they really hope to attend. They should reach out to the admission reps for their area and introduce themselves. If they have specific questions regarding programs, encourage them to email the department heads. If they can’t visit, an email requesting information shows that they are interested.
  • Celebrate the acceptances! There’s not one school your child MUST get into. There are hundreds of colleges and rest assured, your child will get in where they belong.

Thinking about college is both stressful and exciting for us parents. Knowing what lies ahead and having a solid plan in place will help you deal with the anxiety. Now I can shift my stress to her actually leaving…

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Welcome to the World of Girl Drama

****Preface- this post is not about bullying, which is a very serious problem many children, tweens, and teens deal with. All references are for what is considered normal tween/teen drama****

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It can start as early as 5th grade for some, as late as 7th for others but it’s usually 6th grade that will have you in tears. Welcome to the world of girl drama and your initiation will most likely be brutal.

Expect to find yourself on both sides of the battlefield, depending upon the day.

One week your daughter comes home in tears because her best friends have decided to ignore her. You are stunned. These are girls you know! How dare they treat your daughter like this? Screw them all! Your heart will break for her. She may not even know what she’s done. You won’t know what to say or how to fix it.

Things eventually blow over. You breathe a sigh of relief. Everything is back to normal!

And then…you get the text. It’s from another mom and she’s informing you that your child is now the one who is ignoring someone or worse (we’ll get to the worse later). You can’t believe it. There must be some misunderstanding. This just happened to her; surely she wouldn’t do the exact same thing to someone else! Again, you’re at a loss.

You knew at some point you’d watch you daughter nurse a broken heart but what you probably didn’t realize was it would be broken by a friend long before boys enter the picture. I know NO ONE who has been immune to preteen/teen girl drama so my advice is to be prepared.

First Thing First…

Never utter the words “my daughter would never…”. This is almost guaranteeing your daughter will do whatever it is that follows your words. Even if your daughter is the very definition of an angel, there is a 99% chance that at some point, she will participate in some not-so-nice, mean girl behavior. Let that sink in. Your child is not perfect and neither are any of her friends.

They are learning and growing, experimenting with limits, testing friendships, and feeling out their power.

Some Things to Expect (or at least be aware of)

On Social Media-

  • She will not be tagged in a photo when all of her friends are/ She will not tag one of her good friends in a photo (this is 100% intentional- do not believe for a moment it was innocently forgotten)
  • She will get a “side tag” by her bestie and a new name will be featured prominently in the middle/She will place tags in ways that highlight levels of friendships depending upon the day/week/month
  • She will get removed from a group text/She will remove others from group texts
  • Her friends will leave a “houseparty” (an app) and start a new one without her/She will do the same
  • She will participate in “games” and quizzes on her FINSTA (fake Instagram account) that will playfully roast others (which could definitely get her into trouble)

IRL (In real life)-

  • She will give the silent treatment/She will receive the silent treatment
  • She will gossip about others/Gossip will be spread about her
  • She will get dumped by a friend/She will dump a friend

To get involved or not?

This is where things get murky. You ALWAYS want to be involved with your daughter by having open conversations. Be there to listen and try your hardest not to tell her what to do but instead strategize many options and let her choose what feels right to her. Not every girl is ready to confront someone and staying silent is not always the best option either.

Should you call the other parent? Many experts say this is the wrong move. Unless we are talking about bullying (more on that below) your best move may be to work with your daughter and not involve the other parent. If you have a close relationship with the other mom, you may want to acknowledge that you realize the girls are having a problem so that she knows you are aware of what’s going on. Whatever you do, do not place blame. When anyone attacks our children, our response is to attack back. Remember there are three sides to every story- your daughter’s, her daughter’s and the truth. 

Another option is to encourage your daughter to turn to a guidance counselor who is a neutral resource who is skilled at handling these things.

And then there are times you must get involved. If your child doesn’t want to go to school because things have gotten so bad, is withdrawn or displaying unusual behaviors, that is a sign to get a professional involved. Stay on top of it and let your mama bear claws out.

Is it Bullying?

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. (https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html)

So what do you do if your child is the…

“Victim”

First explain the tween/teen friendships are fluid. They will most likely change many times throughout the middle school years. Most importantly, stress that she cannot be a doormat. She can and should ask her “friend” what she’s done wrong and what she can do to make it better. If no reason is given, then encourage her to foster other friendships (cast a wide net). One of two things will happen- it will work itself out or it won’t. If it doesn’t work out, they have most likely grown apart and this happens. Reassure her it will be ok. Girls are looking for friendships that “fit” and not every friendship does. This is much harder if it’s a group as opposed to one girl but the advise remains the same- don’t beg.

“Perpetrator”

Try to get her to name the feelings she has toward the other girl. She’s got to name it to tame it! Is she annoyed, jealous, or hurt? There are usually some strong emotions behind a girl who is acting aggressive or cold to another girl. Ask, what incident preceded this issue? Work to get her to understand the why. Then ask her how she thinks she can handle this…can they talk it out? Does she need space and if so has she told the other girl? Is an apology in order? If so, strongly suggest doing so in person or on a phone call- not as a text.

Most girls will be the victim and perpetrator at some point. Acknowledge this and discuss the reasons why and what types of things shift the power between friends.

Girls Against Girls

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I’ve done a ton of research on this topic and listed below are some of the resources I found the most helpful. If you are in the thick of it, I highly suggest reading the book Girls Against Girls by Bonnie Burton WITH your daughter. We were laughing out loud because she described an exact situation that was happening with my daughter’s friends. It just showed us how normal it is if it’s described to a T in a book! I’ve broken down the book below. How many have you or your daughter experienced?

Mean Girl Methods-

  • Silent Treatment
  • Gossiping
  • Boyfriend Stealing
  • Verbal Abuse
  • Cyber Abuse
  • Dumping

Strategies

  • Keep your cool
  • Confront her
  • Forgive
  • Cut ties
  • Get it out of your system
  • Break out

Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, is the section called “Stopping the Cycle”

  • Understand why you are pissed
  • Learn how to communicate
  • Learn how to admit fault
  • Stop the buzz
  • Don’t plot out revenge
  • Get familiar with your excuses

These years aren’t easy. Take a deep breath and love your girl where ever she happens to be at the moment. Be supportive and a good listener and empower her to brainstorm strategies to tackle mean girl behavior, in others and herself. When she’s wrong, tell her, but use it as a teaching opportunity. Work to be a positive girl role model yourself- don’t gossip and look for ways to support the other women in your life. It all starts in our homes- we will never be able to control how others behave but we always have the power to control ourselves.

Helpful Resources:

The Sex Talk You May Not Know You Need To Have With Your Children

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At one point in my career, I taught sex education to 4th grade girls. It was age-appropriate and very basic (think anatomy and puberty- nothing about actual sex). I was formally trained and was comfortable talking about what I consider to be an exciting part of growing up. There were always a few kids that had deeper questions and I would encourage them to go home and discuss with their parents, with the hope that most parents would be comfortable engaging in a healthy dialogue.

Today’s topic however, I’m going to guess, NO ONE is comfortable discussing. Not even a formally trained sex education teacher. But, here we go. We must. It’s our job because kids are learning about it without our help and it’s not going well.

PORNOGRAPHY.

Ughhh. I get it. I don’t want to either but it’s the big elephant in the room. If you have a child 10 and up who uses the internet, you need to at least think about it. I’m breaking it down into two sections- young kids and teens. Personally, I think the teen piece is critical because pretty much everyone is overlooking this in terms of our teenagers’ healthy sexual development.

YOUNG KIDS

Elizabeth Schroeder, the executive director of Answer, a national sex-education organization based at Rutgers University, said: “Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable.” But the most common mistake parents make, experts said, is to wait to have the conversation until some incident precipitates it.(Taken from So How Do We Talk About This? When Children See Internet Porn, NYT)

So where do you start? I think the first logical place to begin is to put some safeguards in place on laptops, ipads, and cell phones. However, you must realize that even with the best parental controls in place, your child is not completely protected. We can’t keep them in a bubble and there will come a time, whether it’s by accident or through natural curiosity, when they see explicit images they are not ready to see.

The (ongoing) Discussion

Start by letting your child know in very clear terms that if they see something online that seems inappropriate, they should tell you right away, making a point to assure them that they will not get trouble. These images often come with intense feelings of both excitement and shame and are very confusing for young kids.

If your child does come to you or you find out that they have viewed inappropriate sites (you do randomly check the history on all devices, right?!) explain that there are some things online (you tube and instagram are the biggest offenders) that kids are not meant to see. Tell them you know they are curious- stress that that is completely normal- but some of the pictures and videos online are not normal. Ask them if they have any questions and do your best to answer honestly but keep it age appropriate. Whatever you do, don’t lie. With younger kids, it’s always OK to say that this is something you’ll discuss more with them when they’re older.

TEENS

The first thing you need to realize is that the pornography of today is very different than the porn of twenty years ago. Most of us can remember coming across a Playboy or maybe even a rauncher Penthouse and the images we saw. Those are not the images our teens are seeing. Todays teens can access pornorgraphy by specific category and a great deal of it is extremely degrading and often violent, with the sexual acts themselves on the outskirts of what most would consider “normal” “healthy” sexual activity.

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that the easy access to porn is setting up our teens for unrealistic, sometimes dangerous, unhealthy sexual experiences. Research shows that some young men are shying away from real experiences because of the easy and less intimidating access to sexual expreiences online. Other times, boys are expecting their girlfriends to perform the sexual acts they see in porn (unfortunately, whether we like it or not, statistically males view porn significantly more than females). Girls, wanting to please their boyfriends, are complying and not feeling good about the experiences OR actually enjoying unusual sex acts and setting themselves up for unhealthy relationships and encounters in the future. No one is winning here.

So what do we do with our teens? We can certainly tell them our opinion on porn (remember, we as parents have way more influence than we think) but we need to leave the shame out of the conversation. Many articles actually discuss teaching our teens about “safe” sites (rules rather than prohibition), which sites to stay away from, and how to keep themselves safe online.

Regardless of your personal opinion, we MUST explain that pornography is a fantasy world and to expect what they see in porn from their real-world girlfriends and boyfriends is not OK.

Here is a sample conversation starter and some tips taken from the article, There’s Pornography On The Internet? Really? How To Talk To Your Kids from Huffpost Parents.

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of private time on the Internet, and it looks like from the history that you’ve visited some adult sites. I want to make sure you understand some important aspects of these sites and the risks associated with this material.”

You should then go on to stress that the computer itself becomes tagged in the cyber world once pornographic sites have been visited. Servers become “aware” of where a computer has been. That can lead to unwanted, even dangerous attention to those who use that computer.

Most importantly, let your children know that what they see online is NOT REAL. That’s the most important advice. Sexual activity is normal, but what they’re seeing is staged. It’s like reality TV, and you can use that analogy. No one really believes that reality TV isn’t to some extent scripted. Similarly, even the adult Internet sites that are meant to be “regular people” are, by definition, not engaging in regular sexual activity. That’s because they’re on camera, or worse, because they’re being unknowingly filmed. This is potentially and in many cases without question exploitative, and you can stress to your teen that sexual activity never goes well when one person exploits another.

 

Here are some more resources for those interested…

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn, TIME

How To Talk To Your Teenagers About Poronography, NYT

If you’ve made it to the point of parenting where this is a concern, you already know how tough it is to raise a child. This is one of those difficult subjects but one where your guidence will surely help them wade through these murky waters.

 

Book Review- The Price of Privilege

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The Price of Privilege

I’m blessed.

Or lucky.

Or however you choose to look at it.

I was born in a great country to parents who wanted me and loved me. I’ve always had enough. I’ve never known hunger; I’ve never feared for my safety. I didn’t deal with any of the heartbreaking issues children must contend with daily all over the world.

However, I did know a bit of struggle. I did not get everything I asked for. I had to wait for a birthday or holiday for a big ticket item and then it was a huge deal. We didn’t take a vacation every year. Going out to dinner was a treat. When I was 14, although I got the new pair of sneakers everyone was wearing at the beginning of the school year, by December, I wanted another pair so I got a job and I bought them myself. I can still remember how badly I wanted them and the pride I felt when I went to the mall and bought them with the money that I had earned. Without a doubt, I feel these experiences shaped me into the hard working, responsible, grateful person I am today.

Fast forward to the life my kids are living. Dinner at restaurants many adults dream of going to. Multiple vacations a year. Sporting events, concerts- all with amazing seats. They will not have to take out loans in order to go to college. I am blessed to give them this life and they are certainly blessed to be living it.

But can having too much actually hurt your kids? That is the big question that this book sets out to answer and the short answer is a resounding YES.

“In spite of their economic and social advantages, affluent and well educated families experience the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints and unhappiness of any group of children in the country”

Wow. Intuitively I knew that too much of anything is never good but that statement took my breath away.

Some other interesting thoughts/findings the author discusses—

“Many affluent women have active social lives but few real friends; they have marriages with too little intimacy”

“Affluent moms tend to pour all of their unrealized ambition into their kids”

“Affluent parents as a group underestimate the impact of our absences and overestimate the degree of closeness our children feel toward us”

It’s a lot to take in.

It’s a lot to contemplate.

But they’re all ideas that are worthwhile to at least examine.

While reading, I found myself wishing there were more strategies to combat the negative side of affluence. I also found the book to be a a bit repetitive at times but overall, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Let me know if you do and what you think!