Welcome to the land of bizarre summertime news.
If bus monitors-turned-almost-millionaires and ponytail-chopping judges weren’t enough, we also have this tidbit from Washington State: a mom irate about her children getting badly burned on a school field trip after school officials refused to give them sunscreen.
Because sunscreen, according to school policy, is dangerous. And a liability. All those additives and potential allergens, they explained.
And school district policy is clear that no medication – even sunscreen – can be applied without a physician’s consent. (One teacher apparently even applied sunscreen in front of the girls, but said that she couldn’t share.)
So, mom Jesse Michener ends up rushing daughters Violet and Zoe to the hospital because they look about the same color as lobsters when they get home, while the principal apologizes for not having been able to do anything to protect them.
Um … where does one even start with this one?
Leaving the pros and cons of sunscreen aside (I wonder what the school district thinks about, I don’t know, soap), it seems to me that the whole story reflects a bigger social question about personal agency and responsibility.
I mean, it seems pretty backwards for a school – you know, an institution ostensibly designed to promote independent thought – to have a culture where individual actors have lost the ability to make reasonable, case-by-case judgments.
But it’s hardly rare. Talk to any number of teachers or administrators and you’ll hear similar stories.
And it’s not just schools. Remember that story of the airport monitors hauling a toddler off a plane for being on the terrorism “no fly” list? The sort of non-thinking rule following, often at the expense of logic, and often molded by some sort of liability fear, is pretty commonplace in American officialdom.
But it’s not, I might venture, particularly helpful.
Because I think it impacts, among other things, parenting.
I certainly don’t want to pass judgment here – goodness knows how many times I’ve taken Baby M into town forgetting hat, sunscreen, diapers, even pants – but it’s hard not to wonder why, knowing her daughters were particularly sensitive to sun, Ms. Michener wasn’t a bit more proactive pre Field Day.
Now, a perfectly reasonable answer to this is “I forgot, but I expected the school – to whom I entrust my kids every day – would provide a little backup.” I’d be sympathetic to that.
But instead, there’s widespread, accusatory outrage – the sort that suggests the harm is totally someone else’s fault.
And that, also, seems unhelpful.
Maybe the real lesson in this is that all of us – institutions, individuals, moms, dads, kids – have to start thinking more, and passing the buck less.
There has been quite the kerfuffle this month about airline seating policies “discriminating” against families – or at least making tickets a good bit more expensive for flying parents who want (or need) to sit with their children.
At issue is the growing trend of many airlines to charge more for advanced seating, as well as for desirable window and aisle seats. At least one politician – Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York – has called on the US Department of Transportation to intervene and protect the rights of flying families.
All of which is interesting. But perhaps also a bit tangential to the real hassles of family flights. At least when there are toddlers involved.
Because, if you’re booking a flight from – just to throw out something totally random here, of course – Manchester, N.H., to Chicago, and you happen to be traveling with your 16-month-old daughter, you’re going to make sure you sit together. And once you’re on that plane, in your extra expensive row, the fun has only started.
Now you have to amuse this little creature, who has the attention span of a flea, for a good two hours. Or more.
So, as a public service, I figured I’d share some of the tips Husband and I have learned after more than a dozen flights with 16-month-old Baby M, which have ranged in sky time from one hour (manageable) to 19 hours plus layover (insane).
(And I’ll admit that we have not had to suffer the extra window fees yet. Our daughter is still in that double-edged-sword category of the “lap child,” which means you don’t have to pay for her ticket, but she also doesn’t get her own seat. Which was fine at 6 months. Really it was. But now that she is a squirmy, crawling, toddling lap eel? Horrific. But cheap.)
1. Arm thyself. You need toys. Books. Stuffed animals. Pieces of trash that you can pretend are toys. Collect these items (some traveling parents suggest wrapping them as individual presents to dispense as needed) into a big bag and have them at your ready. And be prepared for the toddler to get bored with all of them in about 15 minutes.
2. Improvise. Always accept the bag of peanuts and the narsty pretzel snacks. They make excellent shakers. A cup of ice once got us from over New York all the way into Baltimore-Washington. Straws are awesome. Remember, you’re dealing in minutes here – anything that can amuse the child for even one minute brings you a minute closer to victory.
3. Prepare. This is not the time to try to save money on your flight at the expense of convenience. As tempting as it might be to shave money of your fare by flying at a strange time of day, or by stopping in Dallas on your way to Chicago, these days you don’t want to do it. Trust me. Eat ramen noodles at your destination instead. Seriously.
4. Bring rations. Sure, the flight schedule said your plane was going to land by Toddler’s afternoon snack time. But what if there’s a delay? And what if Child gets hungry and wants food now? Follow this tip and you won’t have the inevitable meltdown. Cut up some fruit and cheese and throw it in your bag. Or, if you’re like us, running late and relatively frantic, grab a bagel at one of the airport vendors. This is not the time to be picky about nutrition.
5. This is similar to No. 4. Bring extra diapers. More is better. The reasoning should be obvious.
6. Remember that most people on the plane have earphones. What sounds like high pitched screeching or crying to you might sound like a distant din to them. Besides, most people – horror stories aside – are very nice about traveling children, and especially when they see parents making an effort.
Hearing about Tropical Storm Debby makes me think of my best friend when I was growing up in Cleveland, where storms with names meant nothing. I didn’t know anything about hurricane season – it was snow days I always looked forward to. But when I moved to the Caribbean in the late 1980s, I learned all too quickly about the dangers of the season. And as a new mother, I also had to learn how to deal with the preparations, my anxiety, and the impact it had on my two young children.
I only knew hurricanes were about to reach Haiti when I received frantic calls from my friends and family in the States. Back then, hurricanes weren’t a priority on the news radar in Haiti. Besides, daily living there was in and of itself a natural disaster in terms of preparing for hurricanes because of the uncertain political conditions. It was expected that those who could had extra propane tanks for the gas stoves, extra five-gallon containers of water on hand always, shelves of provisional food, batteries, flashlights and a back-up power source.
There was no such thing as boarding up windows or such in our house – we lived in a house that had open metal grates as opposed to glass windows, so when the rain came, as it did frequently, and winds blew hard, we got wet, and found odd objects blown in through the windows. For my young son and daughter, we just made a game of it, hiding in a room with toys as the rain pelted the roof, trying to come up with musical rhythms to match. I can’t remember a single time when there was any sort of panic.
Then came our move to Miami. It was a whole new ballgame. We were several years out from the devastation of Andrew, but hurricane preparedness was all the news, all the time when a storm was approaching and caused my daughter to ask why the hullabaloo and my son to question why the season couldn’t be timed to the school year so he could stay home more.
For the first season or two, we had no reason to be concerned – we filled our hurricane box with the essentials and didn’t give the named storms much thought. Status quo, until the year when we flew up north to drop our daughter at school and had to return a day early because of an impending hurricane. We’d left our son with a friend who lived on the other side of the city, and didn’t realize that we should have stayed on that side of the city until we crossed over the bridge to our home on Key Biscayne and saw that everyone, and I mean everyone, was heading off the Key. We were living in an evacuation zone. Our son got a crash course in putting up hurricane shutters.
That storm never hit but when one did, it was my son, then 14, who saved the day. At this point we had a routine with the shutters and pulling in the patio furniture. We had bought a generator that he was in charge of starting, which he’d had much practice with since electricity was one of the first things to go.
During this particular storm, the lights went out early; the rain was relentless. I tried to keep my cool but I was anxious because the pool was already full and water was starting to seep through the patio glass doors. My son took towels and rolled them up to plug the gap, squeezing them dry as they soaked up like a sponge. He sensed my concern and started with the musical rhythms from Haiti, which I latched on to until there was a terrible sound from the bedroom and we discovered that the water had entered into the air conditioning vents and pushed right through. The point of entry was smack in the middle of the ceiling over my bed.
I wrung my hands; my son, just pushed the bed out of the way, got a plastic sheet and covered the carpet. When the hurricane passed, he helped me put the mattress out to dry, and picked up the downed branches and debris.
He’s been at college for the past few years but will be spending this summer at home. We’re both a bit out of practice with the shutters and patio furniture, and we haven’t gotten our hurricane box together yet but I already know that it’s going to have a lot more food in it – he’s a lot bigger, and stronger than he was when we first started this routine. I also plan to put that brute force to work if we have to move the patio furniture again. It might, however, be just a little bit harder to come up with games if we’re stuck inside. Shoots and Ladders has nothing over the video games he’s become accustomed to playing.
And … who cares?
We’ve been thinking about that question a good bit recently.
With the ever-buzzing Internet, facilitated by handheld smart devices, teens are more likely than ever to catch a steady flow of celebrity news. And much of the time, the messaging behind that news is not exactly what parents would prefer. (Think Britney, folks.)
Sure, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with Cyrus’ early engagement, or Snooki’s premarital pregnancy. (We can probably all agree that Ms. Portwood’s jail sentence is too bad.) But there’s a lot of evidence pointing to the challenges associated with these behavior patterns in society at large. Statistically, the younger people are when they get married the more likely those marriages are to end. Statistically, unwed mothers are more likely to have economic troubles.
But does any of that matter? Aren’t teens (and younger children) smart enough to know the difference between celebrity glitz and real life?
The other day I called up child development expert Diane Levin to ask her opinion.
I asked her whether Miley’s engagement news, to take one example, means that we’ll soon see a rush of teenage marriages.
“It’s not so purely black and white,” she says. “It’s not like the kids see something and they do it.”
The issue, she says, is that constant pop culture messaging can shift children’s place on what she describes as a continuum. Take violence in the media. Just because a child watches 100 murders a week on television doesn’t mean that child will end up killing someone. But if you place the child on a continuum of aggressive behavior, studies have shown that the television violence moves the child further toward the aggressive end.
This shift happens differently for different individuals. But for those already vulnerable to a certain type of behavior – whether it’s aggression or teen pregnancy – a barrage of pop culture messaging can tip the scales. For others, it shifts, however subtly, the concept of “normal.”
“Once the people who have been glorified are modeling something, it is going to have some effect,” she says. “The more of it [teens] see, the more it becomes their culture, the more it becomes normalized.”
(You can see this same pattern in the sexualization of children. The celebrity “sexy” culture trickles down to the masses to the point that padded bras for 7-year-olds seems “normal.” To some people, at least.)
But parents don’t have to despair – or forbid their kids from following the travails of Miley et al.
Children who are what Levin describes as “interconnected," or who have meaningful in-person (as opposed to screen) relationships with peers, family members and others, tend to resist celebrity culture more so than those who are more isolated. So do children whose parents talk with them about what they’re seeing in the pop culture world.
“Kids have two boxes in their heads,” she says. “There’s the pop culture box and the family culture box.”
The parents’ job is to connect those boxes, to help children apply the values they learn at home to the world of pop culture, which might otherwise have its own set of values. Levin says that parents do themselves (and their kids) a world of good when they start nonjudgmental conversations with their kids about the behavior of celebrities, or ask what their children think about the news they are seeing.
Also important, she says, is to be informed. If you don’t know what’s going on in your kid’s world, then it’s pretty hard to engage her about it.
So bring on Snooki. There’s something to this celebrity news after all.
Experts predict that the teen unemployment rate this summer will reach a record high for the third consecutive year. This situation can cause undue stress on teens and their families. Many teens rely on this source of summer income to cover both recreational costs throughout the year and to save for college.
Parents rely not only on the monetary gains for their teens, but also on the structure, predictability and stability a regular summer job ensures. Many teens find themselves loafing around the house with little to do except sleep, eat, play video games, or spend endless hours on social networking websites. The boredom can lead to strain between parents and teens. Parents want their kids to be productive; teens are frustrated with their lack of success in securing a job. Both parents and their teens can become annoyed and irritable with each other and the situation in general.
While the situation may seem dire, there are some strategies parents and teens can implement to stave off the boredom and create structure. While there is no guarantee that your teen will walk away with a job, isn’t it at least worth a try?
1. Call around to create a job. Your local neighborhood is the best place to conjure up employment. Teens should let friends and neighbors know they are available to do odd jobs. Parents can help to spread the word by talking to friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members.
2. Keen observation can lead to a job situation. A quick walk around the neighborhood could result in an employment opportunity for your teen. Does the neighbor’s lawn need mowing? Are the shrubs overgrown? Do the neighborhood kids seem bored? Do their parents seem overwhelmed? Could an elderly neighbor use some help running errands? By offering to take over at the right price your teen can create a job where none previously existed.
3. Look into volunteer opportunities. Boredom can easily result in feeling depressed, anxious and isolated. Volunteer work result in feelings of pride and joy. Many organizations offer formal volunteer programs.
4. Create a volunteer position. Help your teen find a volunteer position by suggesting that he offer to work for free at an organization or business. If for example, she enjoys gardening, offering to help out at a local nursery will provide her with a great experience. Perhaps he wants to become a disc jockey or news reporter. Contacting local stations, including public access or local cable channels, may provide him with a priceless experience. Is she an aspiring designer? Does he want to be an architect? Your teen should identify and approach local firms and offer to work for free. If your teen loves animals, have him head to the local veterinary office, animal shelter or farm. They may just welcome a helping hand. It’s possible that their volunteer work may translate into a paid position. At minimum, the experience will offer structure and satisfaction in addition to experience they need for future jobs.
The current employment market certainly offers no easy answers but with a little ingenuity, your teen may just able to create a stable summer situation for him where none previously existed.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.
International donations for Ms. Klein, sent through the social fundraising site indiegogo.com, have topped – get this – $450,000. (Take that, kids who were taunting Klein about how “poor” she was.) Southwest Airlines has offered to fly Klein and nine other people on an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland. And at least two of the kids have “apologized,” according to statements handed over by police to, of course, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. (Does this story get wackier and wackier, or what?)
"I wish I had never done those things, if that had happened to someone in my family like my mother or grandmother, I would be really mad at the people who did that to them," read one of the statements, given by a child identified as Wesley.
(And really, Wesley, you should be mad if someone did it to anyone’s mother or grandmother, but I won’t quibble.)
Meanwhile, just to give more ammunition to those who blame our “mean” culture for the middle school kids’ outrageous behavior, police in Greece, N.Y. have had to start patrolling the homes of the boys involved because they have reportedly received death threats.
(Sigh. C’mon people. Let’s stay classy here.)
Still, there’s no more info on what will actually happen, officially, to the little bus monsters.
Yesterday I wrote that I suspected that the answer to this would be, effectively, nothing. Public school systems are hamstrung in handing out any real punishments, and at this point Klein says she does not want to press criminal charges.
(This, by the way, goes to one of the questions I’ve heard about this incident, which is why the bus monitor, the person supposedly in charge of keeping the peace on the yellow Lord of the Flies mobile, takes such abuse. Problematic, no?
And I agree. But her response, when asked why she didn’t try to discipline the children was a telling: “Why bother? What good is it going to do?”)
Any real consequences, I imagine, will (or won’t) take place within the homes of the children involved. And given the way the children acted on the bus – well, it’s easy to be a bit skeptical about whether any home-based reaction will be particularly effective.
One of the seventh grader’s dads, for instance, said the boys have suffered enough given the publicity of the video.
“He’s a 13-year-old kid,” Robert Helms told ABC news. “It was a stupid mistake and he’s paying for it, but I just think it’s a little out of control.”
When bazillions of the people around the world catch you doing something horrible, I’m sure it’s tough. But that exposure – as embarrassing as it is (and should be) – is simply not punishment. No, it’s just the mirror. Confusing the two is at the crux of a widespread parenting problem. (Just because something is hard for your kid doesn’t mean that it’s unjust.)
But it got me wondering…. what would you do if you found out your kid had participated in something like this?
An informal query and perusal of web comments lead to answers that ranged from “They would be grounded FOREVER” to “corporal punishment.”
But really, what would you do? What a horrifically embarrassing, saddening moment for a parent.
And to be honest, I really don’t know the answer. I would hope that the answer is in prevention – in having a home attitude where relentless taunting of a grandmother is not considered just a “stupid mistake,” but morally, deeply wrong.
And not just having that home environment, but in creating an open dialogue with one’s kids to connect the dots between home values and the seemingly disparate pop culture values of political incivility, shock jock radio shows, and accepted meanness. Kids live in both worlds – it's up to us to help ground them in kindness. And it’s also up to us to provide instructive consequences when they go astray.
When an editor from The Christian Science Monitor called to ask what I thought of the much-viewed video of middle school bus-riders bullying the bus monitor, I looked it up and watched it for the first time. The editor called me because of an earlier post in which I described different types of bullies and victims, and to me, this looks like a classic bully/classic victim situation.
What’s most shocking is the fact that she’s an adult, and these are children. In theory, she should have the authority to make it stop. I don’t know her, so I can’t say anything with any certainty. All I can say is that her demeanor and the way she handles it mimic exactly what a victim the same age as the tormentors would do. An adult comfortable wielding authority would never handle it that way. She would be on her cell phone to the principal right then and there. I very strongly suspect that incidents not unlike this happened to her back when she was a kid on the bus and did not have any authority.
So I’m left with a lot of questions about the choices other adults made. Why did the school district hire someone so passive as a middle school bus monitor — one of the toughest disciplinary jobs around? If she can’t defend herself, how can she defend other children who may be victims of these boys? (Okay, judging from the responses to my last blog, I’m going to hear a chorus of “she’s blaming the victim.” A reminder, I am in no way defending the perpetrators or suggesting soft penalties. Can we get out of the blame-game all together and solve the problem? Because if we don’t, this kind of stuff is just going to keep happening.) Where was the bus driver? Why on earth did he or she just allow that to happen? One of the chief ways adults in education keep control over the kids, who always outnumber them, is by acting as allies, and the driver dropped the ball. Also, if he/she won’t defend a colleague, where does that leave a victimized kid on the bus?
This is why just punishing bullies is not enough. I’ll go back to the rape analogy I used in my previous blog. I don’t want to be raped and then have the perpetrator punished. I mean, if I am raped, I want the perp to pay, but first and foremost, I don’t want to be raped at all. I want to know how to prevent the attack. If I am attacked, and someone can help me, I want them to help. It’s not about blaming the victim; it’s about reducing the number of victims altogether.
What I suspect is playing out on that video is the behavior of a lifelong victim and a lifelong passive observer. The adult bus driver did what kids often do when they see someone being bullied — nothing. They fear becoming victims themselves. By the time someone reaches adulthood, and when they are in a position of authority, they should be past that, but if that basic fear is never dealt with, it lingers and we see what we saw in the video. The monitor, as I said, also handles it the way a kid would, hoping her tormentors will get bored, when her passivity actually only seems to encourage it. (“Just ignore them and it will stop” — a horrible piece of advice given all too often.)
I have no idea what may have happened to any bullies the monitor encountered in her past. I doubt it matters. Kids who are victimized or who may observe someone being victimized have to be empowered, and while the bullies must be dealt with, the only way to prevent future bullying is to teach potential victims how to deal with bullies. Give them skills they can use later in life when faced with an abusive spouse or tyrannical boss. A classic victim has to learn how reach out for help, and schools must respond, using appropriate levels of conflict mediation and punishment for perpetrators.
This isn’t a “zero-tolerance,” one-size-fits-all approach. If some of those kids really are capable of empathy, strong punishment is called for, but it’s the least important element in changing the behavior. At some point, they need to face their victim in a controlled environment designed to tap into that empathy. I really have seen this make a profound and positive difference for both the bully and the victim. If one or more of the kids smirk or are obviously insincere during the initial investigation, then yes, their punishment is harsher, and there is no conflict mediation. They are directed to have absolutely no future contact with the victim whatsoever. Parents and lawyers will squawk about this as unfair or arbitrary, but parole boards take attitude into consideration all the time. Why shouldn’t schools?
If we focus on teaching, rather than just punishing, then maybe we’ll have fewer people in their 60s who are so entrenched in the victim role that they feel powerless against children.
If you’re like a bazillion other people across the world this morning, you might have caught glimpse of a YouTube video showing an elderly bus monitor sitting through an absurd amount of verbal abuse from a group of middle schoolers.
The 10-minute, brutal video, which was posted Monday and has since gone viral, shows Karen Klein trying to ignore profanity-laced insults and even some physical threats, including the suggestion that her children should commit suicide.
In the good news department, an online fund set up for Klein up on the international fundraising site indiegogo.com (“Karen… deserves a vacation!”) has raked in more than $140,000. Turns out most people find the cruel, relentless taunting of a grandmother disgusting.
Which, I’ll admit, is a relief. Because otherwise this story would just have me depressed for days.
Still, good intentions of the masses aside, the story of Klein should leave some pretty sobering questions – not the least of which is: what’s going to happen to those nasty kids from the Athena Middle School in Greece, New York?
And yes – I just called the kids nasty. I didn’t call them “confused,” or “poorly monitored,” or “immature,” or even “making bad decisions in a group environment.” Because it might just be possible that the culture of excuse making for children – the all-too-common parental belief that nothing their little one does is wrong, or at least is someone else’s fault – helps contribute to an environment where a group of young teens can giggle together while tormenting a senior citizen.
So, I might add, does our public school system.
Now this is a big one – too complex, surely, for a column this morning. But think about it – there’s clearly a problem when a school system basically can’t do anything about a group of middle school kids acting like little monsters. Sure, there have been the requisite comments about the kids’ behavior going against “codes of conduct.” (Um, yeah.) There was talk about “consequences.”
But really, what’s the school going to do? Expelling the kids would send the message – to them, to society, to the parents who then will just have to figure out what to do with a child not fit to exist in a publicly-funded setting with other people. No, we’ve decided as a society that schools can’t have that stick.
So what else to do? Greece school board president Julie VanOrman had an idea – make the incident a “teachable moment.” (Gag. Really?)
"This (incivility) is a problem not just in this district but of the nation, and what are we actually doing about it," she said. "What are we all going to do to make sure this doesn't happen on another bus in another school district tomorrow?" she told the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle.
Nothing. We’re all going to do nothing.
Unless there are real changes in parenting, real changes in school system policies, we will do nothing to make sure this doesn’t happen on another bus tomorrow. And next time it might not go up on YouTube.
For many, Memorial Day weekend signified the beginning of the summer season and a return to outdoor fun. Here are a few great activities that will help you make the most of the warm weekends throughout the summer season.
Make and Fly a Popsicle Stick Airplane
Everyone loves to make and fly airplanes, and the rounded popsicle-stick ends on these make for a fairly safe, satisfying, and easily assembled flying machine.
You’ll need: 5 popsicle or craft sticks per plane.
Stack three popsicle sticks and then fan them out so that one end of each stick is still touching the others. Glue the tops together. Weave a fourth popsicle stick over the first stick, under the middle stick, and over the third stick in the triangle. Weave a fifth popsicle stick the opposite way—under the first stick, over the middle stick, and under the third stick in the triangle. If desired, add a dot of glue at each juncture for extra security, and let the glue dry. Paint your airplane or leave it natural. Take it outside and fly as you would a paper airplane. Hold the middle stick and try to launch it decisively and parallel to the ground.
Camp in Your Backyard
Camping out in sleeping bags is fun any time of year—in a backyard, on a porch or balcony, even on the living-room floor. Play low-tech games, like cards and charades. Make traditional camp treats, like s’mores. If you’re outside, enjoy a game of flashlight tag, played by tagging players with beams of light.
Make Patriotic Cookies
These red, white and blue cookies are festive and fun to make anytime. Enjoy the creative process and enjoy the response when you bring them to a party or potluck. In addition, they taste particularly yummy.
Paint and Plant a Flower Pot
Looking for a simple garden project or a teacher or other gift? Paint a clay flower pot with tempera paint. Let it dry, fill with dirt, and plant your favorite plant or seed inside.
Get Your Garden Growing
Weekends are great for getting into the garden. There are fun gardening projects to interest every age gardener and lots of easy ways to get a garden started, even if you’ve never been much of a green thumb.
Play an Old-Fashioned Outdoor Game
Will you be with a group of people over the weekend? Get outside and play an old-fashioned game, like Hide and Seek, Duck Duck Goose or Tag. Or play Pickup Sticks with real twigs!
You’ll need: Approximately 41 twigs.
Hold the twigs in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Players take turns trying to remove one stick at a time, without disturbing any other sticks. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next player takes a turn. Some players use a designated stick to remove other sticks. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total their numbers of sticks to determine the winner.
Enjoy your summer weekends!
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan Sachs Lipman blogs at Slow Family Online.
For a child of the 1960s whose generation was defined by rebellion, my own rebellion was embarrassingly modest. I tuned in (to politics), turned on only modestly (some pot, mainly in college), and didn’t drop out (full steam ahead through college and law school). I grew my hair long, to my parents’ dismay, listened to music that sounded to them like so much noise, and took up the guitar. Never made it to Woodstock.
You might think organizing Earth Day activities at my New Jersey high school in 1971, leading student walkouts to protest the Vietnam War, and getting arrested my freshman year in college for blocking the entrance to Westover Air Force Base in western Massachusetts along with a few hundred other students and faculty were a form of rebellion, but I think my mother considered those my finest moments. After all, I was just following in her footsteps. (My dad was a Democrat, but not very political.)
Throughout most of the '60s my mother wore a pendant around her neck that declared “war is not healthy for children and other living things,” regularly appeared with one protest sign or another in front of our congressman’s local office, and took a volunteer position at the county “Peace Center” advising young men on how to avoid the draft. She made it clear that Canada was a better alternative than sending her own sons to war and she didn’t even like hockey. The first record album I remember ever hearing was Pete Seeger’s “Talking Union,” and one night in the late ‘50s my parents came home early from a Pete Seeger concert because someone had phoned in a bomb threat. The first television I watched, though I was too young to remember it, was the McCarthy hearings.
If I were looking for a way to rebel against my parents politically, dedicating my life to election of Richard Nixon would have been the way to do it.
Some form of rebellion against one’s parents is an accepted right of passage, essential, many would say, to forging a strong self-identity as children prepare to separate from home and strike out on their own. For parents, though, perhaps the most painful type of rebellion is when children reject their basic values, a referendum in which the child essentially votes against something essential about the life of his or her parents.
As best I can tell, my younger son, 17, is rebelling by rejecting my love of the outdoors, remaining inside except under duress and living in a virtual world where he can slay aliens and bad guys with a joystick. He keeps saying he wants to go to college in a warm climate but I can’t imagine why since he lives 99 percent of his life in a climate-controlled environment.
Now, I’m not entirely sure about this, but in subtle ways I sense my older son, now 21 and approaching his senior year in college, is quietly rebelling against something more fundamental. First, there’s his decision to major in finance. Finance? At the small liberal arts college I attended you couldn’t even take a course in finance and those who weren’t going to medical school were majoring in history, English, or philosophy. (For my friends and me, finance was everyone pitching in two bits so we could fill the gas tank on Bob Brown’s VW Beetle; gas was 29 cents a gallon.) For another thing, he keeps cutting his hair short even though he looks terrific with long curly blond locks. And if all that that weren’t enough, he doesn’t recycle.
But perhaps most troubling of all, I have a vague suspicion that I have somehow raised a moderate Republican. He doesn’t talk about politics, hasn’t registered to vote, and gets all his news from ESPN. He’s a terrific kid with a ton of charisma and a good heart. I could be wrong, of course, but I worry that one of these days he’s going to sit me down and come out of the political closet. If he does, I won’t love him any less, of course, but I may always wonder where I went wrong.