Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teachable Moment: Outsmarting Smartphones!

Teachable Moment: Outsmarting Smartphones!

You couldn't pay me to be a tween or teenager in this era. I will age myself by saying this, but I am glad I grew up in a time when you only had Saturday morning cartoons for 2 hours, and the TV went out at midnight with the national anthem signing off til morning. A time when you found your friends based on a mountain of bikes huddled at a park or someone’s driveway across town. I helped chaperone a birthday party for 14 tweens recently, for a birthday girl who was turning 12. The girls were hanging out to watch movies and eat junk food. You can imagine no one watched the movie and all the junk food was gone in a matter of moments. For the most part the “drama” was low for a room full of raging prepubescent females, and there was no shortage of screams and giggles. There was also no shortage of comparing Facebook, Instagram, and status updates. The only squabble was an Instagram post that innocently missed a few girls in the screen. Subsequently they demanded a retake and repost of the entire group.  “It’s not fair to be left off and not tagged appropriately” one of the girls demanded! As I surveyed the room more than half were texting or fiddling with their smart phones (not a single flip phone in the bunch!) even texting “secrets” to each other from across the room. After the fourth tattle-tale came to me expressing her fury around girls texting their so-called boyfriends and not hanging out, I decided to intervene. I grabbed a basket and proceeded to confiscate the iPhones for the remainder of the party. I collected 12 iPhones and one iTouch. Of the 14 gals at the party, only one did not have a cell or electronic device….and that was my daughter. This is not to boast, as at times I have felt insecure from parents shaming me for not providing my child a phone for “safety” reasons, (this is complete BS if you ask me!) but my husband and I have been pretty clear on our position on smart phones. (We have learned from experience the risk involved in our kids accessing misinformation. Not to mention the cost, responsibility around damage and loss, and the idea of receiving and sending out inappropriate pictures…but that is an entirely separate blog post to look forward to!) I digress, back to the shocking look on my daughter’s face which was initially out of pure embarrassment. Admitting she had nothing to add to the basket, then a brave and emphatic “why play with my phone when I am with my best friends” fell off her lips. I cried a little inside, then quickly had to manage crowd control over the cries and stink-eyes glaring back at me. One gal actually said “I can’t be without my iPhone my parents will be upset if they can’t find me” to which I responded with the same stink eye and a playful "be a good sport and give up the phone.” 

Lesson Learned: The first maybe 1 minute 30 seconds after taking the phones away were painful, only because they resented me. After that fun and frolicking ensued and the kids sat together and played games! I rounded up 10 of the 14 girls to play a simple game resembling the old classic, telephone, around the dining room table. Laughter results and memories began to blossom around me, and not one of the girls asked for their phone before their parents picked them up. While I am a very progressive individual and parent for the most part, I am incredibly nostalgic and wistful about living in the moment. I find sheer joy in savoring friendships and building memories. In this age of social media and technology kids are less likely (as are adults) to pick up the phone to call someone. Instead, they look at Facebook to see where people are “checking in” in order to find their friends. I challenge all parents to help their child build healthy boundaries around social media and use it for good and purposeful activities. It can be as simple as throwing electronics in a basket for an hour at a time, but more importantly it is our job as parents to engage with them and model those crucial social skills to build healthy friendships with their peers. If nothing else, I guarantee you will minimize hurt feelings, addictions to social nonsense, and bullying with the simple notion of putting the smart phone down. If you too have your smartphone in your hand and are posting every last move you could use a breather as well. So take the plunge together!

For more information on building healthy boundaries around social media and smartphone use for parents and teens visit:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teachable Moments: Sex vs Gender

Teachable Moment: Sex vs Gender

My son is a boyscout and after a recent meeting I asked him what the activity was. He was excited to share that they had their finger prints done for the police department. As he showed me a piece of paper with his fingerprints he quickly pointed to the section on the page that asked his name, sex, age, birthday etc. In the most fervent tone he said “that is not appropriate to ask little kids at a boyscout meeting!” referring to the box with the word SEX written in it. I explained to him that they were simply wanting him to identify himself as a girl or boy, not a check yes or no if you have had sex! “I thought that my gender is what makes me a boy?” He said. “Your gender is just one part of who you are and actually describes behaviors and attitudes about being male” I started to explain. This was a simple misunderstanding of the use of sex and gender. “These two words actually have quite distinctly different meanings, but many people often say sex in place of the word gender and vice versa” I explained. For my kiddo’s sake, the distinction of the two words is slightly abstract, but starting to help him understand this concept will give him the ability to properly understand and use the word in the world around him. A perfect example is another recent conversation I recalled having between us related to gender. I referred back to this moment with him to help guide the conversation. His remark was “so if the girls (referring to his sisters) are like tomboys. Can I be like a tomgirl? I like playing house and cooking, and they love to build with my Legos and have light saber battles with me” he said between fart noises and singing “Let it Go” the popular Disney song from the movie Frozen. My response, “well sure, if you want to call it that. You can play whatever games or toys you want to. Boys like girl stuff and girls like boy stuff. It’s just stuff.”
If you peeked in my house you would find my youngest daughter dressed like a police officer talking in a grizzly voice while arresting the dog for chewing a sock, my husband singing catchy boyband hits and Broadway show tunes while shaving, and my tween dressed as feminine as it gets in pink hair bows while running through mud puddles throwing the football around with the neighbor boy. Of course I too have my own gender non-conforming behaviors. I prefer to wear men’s dress socks, and often borrow my husband’s athletic shorts when I work out. 

Lesson Learned: Modeling or reinforcing the idea that sex, gender, and sexuality fits only in a box fuels this idea of sexuality and gender as being shameful. Discouraging our boys not to play dolls and load them with play swords and tonka trucks, and our girls with kitchen sets and baby strollers is simply a disservice to their development and imagination. It is my belief, we should never force the societal gender stereotypes, but rather allow for our children to embrace what they are drawn to. A kitchen set for a young boy might just be the toy that sparks the idea of being a chef, or stay home dad. A set of matchbox cars for your daughter might ignite a future designer of automobiles. Talk open, honest, and freely with your kiddos about not being ashamed to embrace what makes them happy, even if it falls outside the stereotype of their gender.
For us adults, knowing the difference between sex and gender is quite helpful. Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term "gender", and how it differs from the closely related term "sex". Here’s a simple breakdown: "Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. For example: the reproduction organs such as penis or vulva are sex designations. "Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. You all know the saying, “sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of” gives homage to the idea of gender. Another way to look at is this: "male" and "female" are sex types, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender types.