Archive for December, 2012

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:


Enough said.

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.

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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. (more…)

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