With the holidays upon us, I would like to share, from my own recent experience, the three levels of giving presents to teenagers.
1. There are gifts that your child is thrilled to receive, but you are less than overjoyed to give:
2. There are gifts you feel wonderful about giving, but on the receiving end, your son…well, not so much:
This one, by the way, was given two years ago and has yet to come out of the box. My son apparently loves pasta a lot, but not so much as to motivate him to make his own.
3. Finally, there is that sweet spot of gift-giving, the present that you love to give and your teenager loves too. This next gift works for me for the obvious reasons — it’s not electronic, ridiculously inexpensive, charmingly old-fashioned and won’t be broken, lost or forgotten in a flash. My 14-year-old loves it because it’s fun and challenging and absurdly satisfying. Here are the basics, which you might even already have lying around the house and which you can get for about $2 if you don’t:
I’m not sure if this has a name, but together these parts add up to an ingenious sum: a ridiculously entertaining game that you can set up anywhere, inside or outside. I got the idea from my nephew, who got the idea from his summer camp, where they know more than a thing or two about what boys find entertaining.
You screw the hook into the ceiling, tie a string to it and tie the metal loop at the end. Then you measure enough string to reach the nail that you have hammered into the wall somewhere across the room. (I guess if you do it outside you hang it from the branch of a tree and put the nail in the trunk.) The object of the game is to swing the string in a circle and try to catch the loop on the nail, like this:
I’m confident that this one is going to outlive the shelf life of the latest video game, particularly as it’s apparently the logical thing to occupy yourself with when you’re supposed to be doing homework. You may want to learn from my experience and encourage your son to set this one up somewhere other than within reach of his desk.
Posted in gifts | Tagged addictive games, cool gifts for teenaged boys, fun games for boys, gifts, gifts for boys, gifts for teenaged boys, inexpensive gifts, presents, toys | 9 Comments »
Like many women with a less than cordial relationship with her bathroom scale, I’m aware that I have a natural weight, the number my body veers toward when I forget I am on a diet. And now, after 14+ years of parenting, I’ve come to believe that I also have a natural inner parent, the one who I always seem to resort to being, despite my attempts to heed the advice of parenting books and articles, and other apparently “better” parents.
This occurred to me during the past week as I’ve pondered how to motivate my ninth-grade son to be less of what his English teacher calls “a minimalist” and what I call a plain, old under-achiever. With report cards issued and parent-teacher conferences underway, I’ve heard some parents talk about how they react to grades they believe are too low (which is often different from a universally acknowledged “bad” grade). There are phones and laptops taken away, video game privileges revoked, and even grounding.
I have considered such steps, too, but ultimately I hesitate – and not only because I’m not sure those methods work. I hesitate because after all these years, I’m getting to know myself as a parent. While I might look at other (stricter) parents with envy, thinking that they have the answers to automatically get their wayward teens in line, I know that I can only parent….as I parent. Which is to say that if were graded on “consistently enforcing rules,” I would get a B-minus, at best. On punishing, I’d probably do even worse. Continue Reading »
Posted in discipline, school | Tagged grades, grounding, homework, punishment, report cards, school, teens, underachieving | 10 Comments »
Today is the 20th anniversary of The Moscow Times, an independent, English-language newspaper published in Russia. If you don’t know me (and even if you do), you may wonder how this occasion has anything to do with raising teenaged boys, the subject of this blog. But my involvement with The Moscow Times has everything to do with how I want my boys to approach life. I want them to know that when adventure comes knocking, the most sensible thing to do may be to quit a perfectly good job.
In late 1990, I was working as a newspaper reporter in Florida, living a spunky Brenda Starr kind of life, tooling around in my light-blue Chevy Nova (with tape deck!), living in an apartment nearly as small as my car, and learning the ropes of journalism while covering everything from night cops, to city politics to suburban alligator trappers.
But then the Soviet Union started to collapse and the appeal of being a reporter in Florida began to pale in comparison to the thought of working as a journalist in Russia. It wasn’t as crazy as it sounds; I had a degree in Russian Studies and had spent a summer in Moscow during college. I heard about a new English-language magazine being published by a Dutch journalist and with the kind of 20-something persistence that is but a faint memory today, I talked myself into an internship and a temporary place to stay.
And then I quit a perfectly good job in Florida and moved to Moscow. Continue Reading »
Posted in careers, Taking risks | Tagged adventure, careers, jobs, moscow, quitting, quitting jobs, taking risks, the moscow times | 25 Comments »
The object of my son’s desire was tall, thin, sleek, robed in black and nothing if not dangerous. “It’s so sexy,” he said.
This was no 9th grade femme fatale he was describing. It was his new airsoft gun. A sniper.
As I watched my 14-year-old son gazing at his beloved, I flashed back to the day when he was three and pretending to be an armed robber. Like any well-intentioned, politically-correct and completely naive young mother, I said, “no, sweetie, we don’t play with guns. Guns hurt people.” My son stopped, looked at me with withering condescension and said “Mommy, it’s pretend.”
He had a point, and one that was hard to argue with. I decided to give his imagination free reign. My hunch was confirmed by a book I reviewed that argued that playing cops and robbers, and even violent video games, allows children to safely explore frightening emotions. I would not put a damper on my son’s pretend play just because I didn’t like the content. Besides, I’d heard enough about boys working around bans on toy weapons to think it was a losing battle; my favorite was the one about a toddler in a Jewish pre-school who was so determined to arm himself that he chewed his matzoh into the shape of a pistol.
Having surrendered in the weapon war, I then had the pleasure of watching my boys move from pretend guns to light sabers, pirate swords, water pistols, nerf guns, archery and riflery at camp, and paintball, a progression culminating in my first born using his bar mitzvah money (!) to buy an airsoft gun and a bucket of ammunition. Continue Reading »
Posted in Sports, Violence | Tagged airsoft guns, gun lust, gun play, guns, nerf guns, paint ball, paintball, pretend play, teenaged boys and guns, toy guns, toy weapons, video games, violence, war games, weapons | 14 Comments »
My husband missed his train today. It was there when we drove into the station, but pulled away as he stepped out of the car. He didn’t seem too bothered; another train would come in 12 minutes and he’d only be a few minutes late to his meeting.
Eleven years ago this morning, my husband overslept and missed another train. One that would have gotten him into the city in time to catch the subway downtown, to a conference in the Marriott beneath the World Trade Center.
That same morning, my brother-in-law decided to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks before taking the subway down to his job on the 84th floor of the South Tower. The express train came and it was crowded; he didn’t feel like standing, so he took the local. By the time he was climbing the stairs out of the station, the towers were burning.
Random minutes mattered that day. Unpredictably, unreasonably, and for so many people with unfathomable cruelty, the minutes made a difference.
For months after September 11, it was hard not to think that small decisions could have big consequences. If one of my boys lagged on the way to school and I realized I might miss the 8:17 train to Grand Central, I’d wonder if that was going to be the best delay of my life or the worst. Living with that kind of anxiety was exhausting. It would be months before I stopped flinching every time a plane passed over the house, before I could put the fresh, raw awareness that awful things can happen to anyone at anytime, back into a deep, neglected corner of my mind.
When my boys were in elementary school, each went through a period of extreme anxiety. When my older son was in fourth grade, he worried about getting sick. Every cut or scrape sent him into a panic. For a few weeks, he was hyper-aware of his body, afraid of every unfamiliar feeling or flicker of discomfort. A year later, my younger son suddenly became anxious about going to school; for a month or so, it was like there was a force field preventing him from crossing the door into his third-grade classroom. Continue Reading »
Posted in anxiety | Tagged 9/11, anxiety, randomness, september 11, twin towers, world trade center | 10 Comments »
This was a first: today I was tempted to hide The New York Times Book Review from my 14-year-old son.
On page 14, Frank Bruni reviews Every Day, David Levithan’s new novel for young adults. Bruni gave the novel a mixed review, finding it poignant but occasionally heavy-handed and far-fetched. He did concede, however, that the issues it explores — about love and its powers to transcend external beauty, race, gender and the logic of physical reality — are particularly relevant to teenagers.
So why don’t I want my son to see the review? Because he loved the book. He was given an advanced reader’s copy by the owner of our local children’s bookstore and returned from camp declaring it “the best book he’s ever read.” I don’t want the critique of a middle-aged man to dampen my son’s sheer joy at reading this book. Or any book.
I get the idea that if you really love something, you love it flaws and all. And that you should be able to defend a book you think was assessed unfairly. And that you should feel comfortable with opinions that go against your own. But I think there should be years and years of pure pleasure from reading before one starts parsing the comments of professional critics. Continue Reading »
Posted in Reading | Tagged book reviews, literary criticism, reading, young adult books | 9 Comments »