From Play Dates to High School Parties

Today’s open thread about play dates reminded me about this FUNNY STORY. A friend has a high schooler and is now dealing with the parties. She wanted to host one at her house. I warned her, you are going to have a house full of hormone influenced teenagers, are you sure you are ready for that? She was determined to make her oldest child happy. She purchased a Hula Girl Pinata (you can see the picture with that link)! My jaw dropped when she told me. I said this is a high school party not a kids party. She insisted it would be fun, and to my surprise, they loved beating the crap out of that pinata. Poor Hula Girl :(

Here is the funny part: All was going well until they decided to “get low“. You know, the hip hop inspired dance where they booty shake and get as low as possible. Well turns out one of the guests decided she would wear one of her tightest and oldest pair of jeans to the party. Once she decided to “get low“ those jeans only lasted a few rounds before…RIP! huge tear in the crotch area and oh the irony. She was wearing Hello Kitty underwear. AND…

She was so embarrassed. I am sure people are still talking about it at her school. I felt bad for her, but maybe this will lead to better decision making next time?

Do you have any similar experiences?

Where you embarrassed, did you see someone become embarrassed?

What advice do you give your teenage children in regards to parties and attire?


Should Parents Get Involved in Teen Fights?

Once again, Brain, Child had a compelling issue, which I read cover to cover. I was enthralled by this debate: “Should you talk to other parents about your tweens and teens sniping at each other?”

“Jamie Roberts” — she used a pseudonym — said no.

While I’m sure that it can’t feel very good to be insulted by your former best friend in a public forum, Derrick seems to be handling it. Just like he can now handle tying his own shoes or fixing a simple snack for himself, Derrick is capable of negotiating these choppy social waters. (For example, he points out that he’s in an advanced math class, and asks why Tobias bothers commenting if he truly doesn’t care.) My job as a mother isn’t to shield him from the painful or irritating or wearying parts of life; it’s to teach him how to get through them. You teach a boy to fish, and he’ll form his own good comebacks for the rest of his life.

Because I’m on Team Derrick. Forever. Even when he’s wrong — and he has been wrong before, you’ll be shocked to learn — my natural inclination is to understand Derrick’s perspective. Forget fairness and neutrality. Even as I sometimes pretend to be otherwise, I’m all about family solidarity. The problem with getting other parents involved relates directly to this family solidarity. Any parent worth her salt is on her kids’ team, and if you’d like to experience an exercise in frustration, please do call that other parent. You’ll get an earful of why Special Snowflake is acting the way he does. You might find yourself trying to get the other parent to understand your little darling’s point of view. It all makes for plenty of compassion, genuine or otherwise, between the parents, but the kids don’t really care why a given situation is happening. They just know that the parents got involved and now they — or just the one on the offensive — must be sneakier.

I see Roberts’s point, especially on the importance of teaching children how to problem-solve, but also not coming out and accusing a parent of Precious’s behavior. This is a lesson I learned — not in middle school though — when my kindergartner was complaining about a girl in his class. I was concerned about him being bullied, and almost brought it up to the mother.

The girl’s mother actually approached me, in the way of a playdate. We went out for ice cream, and the tension between the two kids melted. It was a much better way of dealing with the situation, than my initial, knee-jerk reaction, which was to lay out all the things her daughter had said to Ari. The mother turned it on me and pointed out all the things Ari had done to upset her daughter. Then she proposed the playdate, which was our principal’s suggestion. (Good one!)

But as Brett Stanwick, the mom who argued the “yes” side of this debate, pointed out, there are probably circumstances in which parents’ involvement is crucial. Think of the case of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts girl who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.

Of course, a lot of how this conversation goes depends on things like how well you already know the other parent. Calling up someone you’ve never shared more than a parking lot greeting with is a whole lot harder than sitting down over a cozy cup of tea with a friend, especially if what you’re saying is likely to make them uncomfortable or defensive. But there are ways, honestly. Most of them are related to making sure the other person knows that you’re sharing information, not calling them out on what a crappy parent they are, that your kid has done his or her share of similarly dubious things, and that the goal is to figure out how to get everyone back on track….

It might seem like tattling, but when you talk to another parent, you’re modeling for our own child. Lessons the kids can take away: how to report stuff to authorities (the other parent being their nemesis’s authority), when to recognize that there are problems that you can’t solve alone, how to defuse a tense situation, as well as maybe how to nip in the bud another Phoebe Prince case. You’re also setting the example that this is what mature adults — what the kids aspire to be — do. If two people are having a problem, no one has to suffer in silence. As a parent, you engage as much as you can in coming to a solution, and if you can’t find a solution (because, say, the other parent is an asshole), only then should you feel okay walking away. Just because the kids are fighting doesn’t mean parents should stop thinking of each other as allies.

What do you think? Have you ever contacted other families about bullying?


Getting In – a novel by Karen Stabiner

If you have a high school senior, you may have reached the end of one of the most stressful school years in your parenting career: college applications and admissions season. The end of March and April are full of anxiety for parents of high school seniors — and even parents of almost kindergartners and middle schoolers who apply to schools. How do I know? I read Getting In a new novel by Karen Stabiner, whose name might sound familiar from her HuffPost columns.

Getting In is a snapshop of high school seniors, their parents, and a slimy guidance counselor during senior year at private and public schools in the Los Angeles area. Stabiner takes us through the entire college application process, from the SAT to the rejection/acceptance letters.  She takes an inherently stressful 9 months, the culmination of years of academic pressure, and created a witty, sharp, snarky novel that is fun to read.

In my sheltered world of still elementary school age and younger children and their parents, I know few kids who are in high school. And those that I know have been babysitters. One is now in the honors program at a local university. Another is so busy with her extra-curricular activities that she’s not available to babysit anymore.  Both are amazing kids, young women. Smart, loads of common sense, beautiful who seem to possess a level of self esteem that I will, any day now, achieve.

These young women were not models for Getting In. But for good reason. Stabiner’s senior characters check off every possible item in the checklist of high school possibilities: public school kids, private school kids, privileged, multi-generational Ivy League applicants, girls obsessed with clothes; girls obsessed with grades. girls obsessed with everything. But it’s difficult for adults to portray teenagers these days without injecting some melancholy, but Stabiner gets the balance of teenage snark and vulnerability just right:

Katie was tired of being old news. The worst thing about getting in early was that everyone ignored you in April and expected you to be as happy for them as you expected them to be happy for you back in December. She looked forward to prom as a chance to reclaim her place on center stage, and she was not pleased to find out that Ron intended to ruin everything. She picked a little greet bit out of the penne and glared at her parents across the dinner table.

Parents cannot quite separate themselves from their children. Their lives revolve around the application process:”

Life, for Nora, had become an endless SAT exam. At seven forty-five on a Saturday morning she stood in her closet in her underwear, paralyzed by a series of multiple-choice questions.

Nora is Lauren’s mother.  Focused on the well being of their children, these parents are defined not only which college their children go but to which colleges their children apply, their SAT scores.  But as the process winds on and on, it consumes all families in its path, even those at public schools in less well-to-do Los Angeles neighborhoods:

The tunnel vision got worse every day, even among families that had in the past acknowledged the existence of more substantial threats to their happiness than a college rejection: rogue nuclear nations, a global food shortage, phenomena that people with stacked degrees from illustrious colleges and universities having trouble solving. The mood was only slightly more festive at Ocean Heights, where the demographics included families for whom a UC acceptance was heaven on earth, proof that they were about to send a first generation to college, or that they would spend fewer years in debt than they had feared.

And, yet, they are still clueless. Throughout the novel, Stabiner makes clear that parents may think they know what is going on with their kids, but in their obsession with prestige, they have no idea. Their kids miss admission deadlines, drink, lie and take advantage of the fact their parents are not electronically savvy.

Communications technology was kind to high school students: instant-messaging, texting, and the vibrate feature on cell phones made it impossible for a parent passing by the closed door of a child’s room to distinguish between the keyboard clack of homework and the keyboard clack of chatting with friends. Outside Lauren’s bedroom, her parents commented n how nice it was of her to help Chloe with her history paper rather than  relax once her own homework was done. Inside Lauren’s bedroom, the girls flitted from from to a generalized Google search of “National Merit semifinalist cutoff scores.”

The admissions counselor at the private school is one of the few non-parents in this novel. And this guy, Ted, who is outwardly selfless and inwardly self-serving becomes food for Stabiner’s sharp eye for detail, irony and wit:

Five seasons later, Ted had calloused up. He could wrap a consoling arm around a devastated senior’s shoulder while he debated privately whether to have the mozzarella and tomato on a baguette or the deli meats on a ciabatta roll for lunch. It was what made him a success. He had learned to fight for every senior who had a chance and yet not to care where they ended up or rather, not to care in terms of a teenager’s broken heart……

All that mattered was the list of college acceptances that appeared in the annual report, the list that parents of prospective students compared to similar lists from competing schools when they were deciding where to send their seventh-graders to school.

And if you are still a parent of an elementary schooler, as I am, after reading Getting In you’ll say to yourself: I’ll never be like that. But now that I’ve been a parent for several years, I know that I will.


Too Much P.E. in Texas?

I have to say Texas always has some of the most interesting education stories. Take, for instance, this Dallas Morning News article on whether high school students will take too many P.E. classes to graduate.

The debate is centered around a new state law that gives students more freedom to pick electives.

In passing the legislation in May, lawmakers increased the number of electives that most students can take in high school, but they put few restrictions on what classes can be taken to comply with the new course requirements.

As a result, according to Texas Education Agency officials, students could take more than a fourth of their classes in PE or PE substitutes – such as football, band and cheerleading – to meet the requirements.

The author of the legislation said Monday that in writing the law, he never considered the possibility of a student taking so much PE. But Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said, “It now appears there is no restriction to prevent a student from taking seven credits in PE classes.”

Students in the “Recommended High School Program,” the plan followed by most Texas high schoolers, could take seven credits in PE or PE substitutes as part of the 26 credits required for graduation. That includes one regular PE credit – equal to two semesters – and six electives.

Students are now limited to two credits in PE and PE substitutes during their four years of high school.

The article did mention that students will still be required to take four years of English, math, science and social studies to graduate, which begs the question of how students will actually have time to “game the system.”

What do you think? Should enrichment activities like cheerleading and football count towards graduation?


Weekend Open Thread: School Daze Edition

It’s the weekend, y’all! I kicked mine off by attending a retirement party last night for one of my fave high school teachers.

Mr. Anderson taught me U.S. History during junior year, and was also head coach of the Academic Decathlon team for many years (I was a proud member!). Dozens of former AcaDeca members showed up; some even wore their team sweaters and sported their old medals. It was a surprise for Mr. Anderson and we each handed him a flower with a thank you card attached. He seemed genuinely touched by our presence and remembered us all.

I had a great time seeing old classmates and teachers and catching up. My DH, however, has always been somewhat mystified by my fondness for my alma mater. He doesn’t really keep in touch with former classmates, much less teachers. Wouldn’t dream of attending a homecoming or a reunion. Thinks I’m a geek because my decathlon medals were still stashed in my parents’ garage (oh yeah, I wore ’em to the party!).

I try to explain to him that my high school is…different. I suspect there are many others like it, but it really was a special place. It’s not that I was popular or that high school was my heyday, but I found my niche as a drama geek and all-around geek. I made friends who are still my friends. I met teachers who truly took an interest in seeing me succeed. I would guess that at least 1/3 of the teachers at my high school are alumni. There is just something about my little hometown in SoCal that feels like family, even if the Big City is only 12 miles away.

So I ask you: am I a total freak?  :-) Do you keep in touch with old high school friends and teachers, or did you leave high school and never look back? What is your fondest high school memory…or do you have none?

Oh, and after the party me and DH had dinner and went to see “The Hangover.” VERY ribald and outrageous, and very much a guy movie. But I still laughed my ass off.

What’s everyone up to this weekend? Chat away!


A cautionary note about AP tests

I wrote up a piece for the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland about the six Iowa high schools on Newsweek’s top 1,500 list. There are a few problems with the rankings, based solely on one figure: “the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2008 divided by the number of graduating seniors.” Of course, many other factors go into making a high school “good,” such as a welcoming environment for students from diverse backgrounds, opportunities to participate in a wide range of extracurriculars, meeting the needs of lower-performing students. Also, some excellent Iowa high schools didn’t make the list, perhaps because they cover lower-income neighborhoods as well as prosperous areas.

But there’s another problem with Newsweek’s ranking: it assumes that the more AP tests high school students take, the better. One Bleeding Heartland user has learned the hard way about the pitfalls of piling up AP credits in high school.

Rachael Giertz wrote a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago after the editorial board advocated expanding access to Advanced Placement courses. Since the letter is no longer available on the Register’s website, she posted her letter in a diary at Bleeding Heartland, along with some commentary about her experience.

Giertz did what she was supposed to do in high school–she took lots of AP classes and sat for lots of exams (which are more expensive than I realized–something like $90 per test now). Consequently, she was able to graduate from college in three years. However, when she applied for graduate schools, she found that she was not eligible because she had skipped some college-level courses (like first year chemistry) thanks to AP.

I believe it’s valuable for high-school students to take AP classes as an introduction to college-level work. If money is not an issue, students may as well take the AP tests to see how well they’ve learned the material. However, after reading Giertz’s diary I am going to warn any college students thinking about graduate studies not to skip college courses that may be prerequisites for grad school applications.  

High school AP teachers and guidance counselors should warn students about the risks of using AP credits to graduate from college early.

UPDATE: For other useful perspectives, read this thread at MyDD and Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08’s excellent comment on Giertz’s diary.


Canceling Graduation…. the Right Choice?

In my neck of the woods, there’s a story that’s been in the headlines lately about a regional school district that decided to cancel their graduation ceremony because of cheating.  

The Centerburg Board of Education met in emergency session Thursday evening and unanimously voted to cancel the 2009 graduation that was to be held at Centerburg High School Saturday, June 6.

The board said the action was necessary after an alleged breach to the school’s computer system by a senior student, which resulted in copying some tests for a senior course, NBC 4‘s Tanya Hutchins reported.

Diplomas were to be mailed to all qualified seniors next week.

The reason for the abrupt cancellation? The suspected cheating was discovered late and involved, in various ways, many members of the senior class, the board said.

The board said some students participated in the actual cheating while others knew about the activity but failed to report it.

I’ve always abhorred the attitude of punishing everyone for some people’s mistakes, so I totally disagree with the Centerburg School Board’s decision to cancel the graduation ceremony.  If I was a student there who had nothing to do with the cheating, I’d feel totally robbed of my rite of passage as a high school graduate.  

Our local paper says that at least 50 of the 97 graduating seniors had some involvement in the cheating scandal… either by cheating directly or knowing about it and not reporting it.  But, what about the other 47 students who had nothing to do with it?  Why should they have to lose out?

While I agree this is a terrible offense and should not be tolerated, wouldn’t a better solution be to have the ones who cheated miss graduation and let the students who are innocent attend the ceremony?  And, what to do about the kids who allegedly knew about it but didn’t report it?  Should they too have to miss the ceremony?  

Here’s a sad byproduct of this unfortunate incident:

“Considering I made a promise to my mom two years ago that I would be valedictorian at my graduation on her deathbed and now, I don’t get to keep that promise, over nothing in my control,” said Aaron Pospisil, graduating senior and class valedictorian.

How sad is that?

Today, nearly 100 students protested by wearing their caps and gowns to school.  I feel for the kids who are missing out of their graduation ceremony.  What say you, MotherTalkers?


The Prom Takes a Hit in Recession

Not surprisingly, the prom industry is taking a hit now that the children of unemployed parents are cutting costs like wearing hand-me-down gowns and suits and eliminating the limos, according to

Despite the financial bind they are in, I loved the upbeat attitude and creative thinking of some of the students in the article:

Libby Borchert, an 18-year-old senior at Andover High School in Andover, Minn., said she and 31 of her friends skipped the limo and party bus in favor of a classic yellow school bus to chauffer them to their prom.

“Many of our parents have been laid off,“ she said. “So we couldn’t ask them for more after we’d already spent a lot on our dresses and prom tickets.“

Borchert’s mother works as a school administrator and proposed the idea as a joke. After weighing their options, Borchert and her friends decided to take the bus.

For pick-up and drop-off, each student paid $8 total, and left the prom with great memories.

“A lot of people laughed at us, and we thought it was funny too,“ she said. “We made signs that said, ‘Honk if you like our yellow limo.’“

Have your children cut back on prom or not gone at all? What other cost-saving measures did you take?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Here is a story for you baseball fans, which reminds me, I have yet to see our A’s. I have no idea who the players are anymore. But I know enough to be impressed by the achievements of one Florida high school senior Patrick Schuster. Schuster, who can throw a 90 mph fastball, just pitched his fourth straight no-hitter, a record, according to the Associated Press. He has signed on to play baseball for the University of Florida next year, but may go straight to professional ball. Wow.

MSN had a helpful guide on what to do if your small child accidentally eats common household items like crayons or pet food.

Would you vote for Eliot Spitzer? How about John Edwards? Rebecca Traister over at Salon Broadsheet raised these good questions when discussing Newsweek’s recent profile on Spitzer.

Planned Parenthood put out a YouTube clip in English and in Spanish giving parents tips on how to speak to their children about sex.

The Washington Post wrote yet another whiny editorial about the D.C. voucher program not having congressional support. To make its point, the paper published that 20 percent of members of Congress were educated in private schools, twice the national average. My pleasantly surprised reaction was 80 percent of members of Congress were educated in our public schools? Way to go!

Also in the Washington Post: The newspaper had a trend story on how tween girls in the Washington D.C. area are obsessed with the Obama girls. I just hope the First Daughters’ celebrity doesn’t keep them from forming meaningful friendships. Talk about living in a fishbowl…

Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids wrote about green moms cutting down or even ridding their lives of non-recyclable plastics. While I find that impossible with children’s toys — especially since the cheap plastic ones tend to my kids’ favorites — I have practically eliminated the need for plastic grocery bags. I have done a good job of reusing a canvas bag and/or using paper bags that I then reuse for my other recyclable items. What about you? Have you made a concerted effort to cut down on your plastic use?

Who could possibly be against the White House organic garden? The pesticides company. The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) lobbying group shot a letter to Michelle Obama espousing the wonders of industrial agriculture. Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids has the scoop.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Kids These Days…

Good diary, Erin! I like the angle of how teens are just not that shocking. -Elisa

It had been troubling me for some time.  Teenagers with piercings, weird hair, and, worst of all, sagging pants.  Sagging pants in particular were a pet peeve, which was only aggravated when I came across this letter written to advice columnist Harriet Cole, written by a dad who was irritated by his son’s sagging pants.

You may rightly wonder why this is a problem for me.  Well, I’ll tell you why–boys were sagging their pants when I was in middle school twenty years ago.    Why couldn’t these kids come up with something original?  

I cannot think of a single shocking trend that teenagers have begun to follow during my adult life.  Perhaps, at 32 with and with young (rather than teenaged) children, I’m jumping the gun a bit by expecting to be horrified just yet.  But, while there have been fashion trends that haven’t spoken to me, such as the resurfacing of the 80’s (while I was present for the 80’s, I consider myself primarily a product of the 90’s and therefore hate the 80’s).  However, I wasn’t shocked, only frustrated at having a difficult time avoiding said trend myself.  Where are the advances?  Tiny light bulbs braided into their hair or maybe somehow embedded under their skin?  Barbed wire halos (it’s been done, but not done to death)?  Something truly new and different?  Heck, would it kill American kids to adopt the Japanese style of loli-goth, at least some of which looks new and different?  Worst of all, could it be that we truly are a generation of cynics, who are honestly as immune to being shocked by the behavior of the young as we think we are?

A week or so ago I visited my old high school, which I had learned was being relocated.  A good friend now teaches there.  We sat in the hall and reflected on how times hadn’t changed–these teenagers looked exactly the same as we had.  (On a side note, one especially lovely young man approached me and asked if I was a new student.  I was flattered, but the compliment was beaten into the ground a several days later, when, while buying shoes for my children as “We Are Family” played in the background, the salesman asked if that song had been popular when I was young).

I puzzled over the lack of fashion creativity in today’s youth for longer than you’d care to know, but eventually arrived at a startling and disturbing realization.  Teenagers–even the most creative and independent thinkers among them–almost never design their own clothes.  This is done by adults aging from their early 20’s to their late 60’s.  Trends are sent into the world by adults, first show their faces on the street on people in their early 20’s, and are only adopted by teenagers after the fact.  In other words, I have no one but myself to blame for the dullness I had observed.  As is so often the case, my disdain had been nothing but cleverly disguised self-hatred.