Browsing articles in "Health"
Dec 28, 2010

Backpack Safety Tips For Your Tween

By the time kids reach their pre-teen years, they’re most likely quite used to carrying a backpack to school, sleepovers, camp, etc. In fact, the backpack they choose is often an opportunity for them to express their personal style. There’s a reason that backpacks are so popular as a means to transport books, homework, school supplies and personal belongings: they’re practical — they ensure an equal weight distribution across the body, enabling kids to use strong back and abdominal muscles. The downside is that because they can accommodate so much inside, they can become overloaded and enormously heavy. Under those conditions, backpacks can compromise a tween’s posture and lead to future back, neck and spine issues. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10-20% of their body (less is better, of course). Easier said than done, since far too many students carry significantly more than they should!
Consequences of Heavy Backpacks

  • A too-heavy backpack can pull backward, resulting in the need to compensate by bending forward, which can cause shoulder, neck and back pain in addition to the possibility of unnatural spine compression.
  • Improper backpack use (including a too-heavy backpack or the use of only one shoulder strap) can lead to poor posture, especially among girls and younger tweens, because they’re likely smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body size.
  • Backpacks with tight, narrow straps can dig into the shoulders and interfere with circulation and nerves, contributing to tingling and numbness.
  • Large backpacks can be a nuisance to others when they protrude in a tight space or can be tripped over.
  • Large backpacks can cause a student to be off-balance and increase the risk of falling, especially on stairs.

How To Choose a Safe Backpack

Despite their potential problems, backpacks can be an ideal carryall for tweens to use to tote school and/or personal items around. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following tips be considered when selecting a backpack:

  • Look for a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back (to cushion heavy items and prevent poking by sharp objects/edges).
  • Choose a lightweight version, which most kids’ packs are, and talk your tween out of sporting the enormous quantity of key chains that some like to attach!
  • Though stylistically this will be a tough sell, encourage the use of a waist belt that would help take some of the pressure directly off the back.
  • Make sure the backpack has multiple compartments to help spread the weight out.
  • Consider a rolling backpack, though it can be challenging to maneuver stairs and inclement weather.

How to Safely Use a Backpack

  • Pack lightly and organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.
  • Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Ensure that it never weighs more than 10-20 percent of the tween’s body weight (measure if you have to).
  • Use both shoulder straps (slinging over one shoulder can strain muscles).
  • Tighten the shoulder straps to fit closely to the body and just above the waist.
  • Suggest that unnecessary items (e.g., diaries, ipods, personal books, etc.) be left home.
  • Reinforce proper lifting technique to avoid back injuries (i.e., bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to their shoulders).

Consider Getting The School Involved

Just as many parents (and trees!) have benefited from the curtailing of paper overload (thanks to emails and access to important school information online), involving other parents and your tween’s school in solving students’ backpack burdens might help to lessen kids’ loads. Some ways the school can get involved include:

  • Utilizing paperback books.
  • Implementing school education about safe backpack use.
  • Putting some curriculum and assignments on the school’s website, when possible.
  • Encouraging children to remove old items from their folders and backpacks once the subject is complete.
  • Providing a locker or cubby for students to leave material that can remain at school.
Dec 10, 2010

Helping Kids Cope With The Loss Of A Parent

Recently the news has been all about the death of Michael Jackson. Millions watched his memorial service and our hearts went out to Paris-Michael when she told the world how much she loved her dad. Now, we wonder what can be done to help the Jackson children, and others who have also lost a parent, come to terms with their grief.

What Death Means to Kids
For kids, how they perceive death depends on their age and cognitive development. Preschool aged kids believe death is temporary. Five to nine year olds start to realize that death is irreversible and that all living things die, but think that they are somehow immune to it. Preteens, however, fully comprehend death. “Between 9 and 12, children understand that death is inevitable and affects everyone,” explains Dr. Jessica Lippman, author of Helping Children Cope With the Death of a Parent.

What to Expect
Immediately after the death of a close family member, most people experience a period of intense upheaval and a sense of unreality, which can last a few months. “Gradually the real meaning of the loss takes shape, not just in how the person’s absence is felt, but also in the many ways life has changed,” says Dr. Robin Goodman, Director of A Caring Hand. “Grief for children is about the everyday changes and reminders – who read you a story at night or an empty chair at the dinner table.”

These reminders can provoke different reactions in different kids. Their behavior may range from regression, which could include acting out, to anger, separation anxiety, or needing to control everything. Kids sometimes try to regain the feeling of control in their lives by taking on more responsibility than is age appropriate. Often, the oldest child will try to take on the role of family caretaker. “It’s very important that this behavior is not accentuated or encouraged, because if the older child is taking care of the family, he can’t take care of himself and fully mourn,” explains Dr. Cara Gardenswartz, a psychologist with expertise in grieving.

It is crucial to watch for signs that your child needs help coping with their grief. Most behavior, under these circumstances, is considered normal. However, Suzy Yehl Marta, author of Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope advises finding a counselor who specializes in grief and loss if a child’s response is extreme, protracted, or the caregiver is concerned.

Supporting Your Kids
“As a first priority, the adults in the child’s world need to reestablish a sense of stability and predictability for their youngster,” recommends Dr. Lippman. The death of a parent can trigger fear of the unknown in a seemingly volatile world. “The circumstances of a death address how we see the safety and stability of our world. As adults, we have to help our children sort out the reasons and circumstances of the death,” continues Lippman. Helping your child put the death in perspective and assuring that they will be cared for goes a long way in helping them through the grieving process.

“Listen, listen, listen,” is the advice of Deidre Lewin, Director of the Den for Grieving Kids.  The best way to help a child through the trauma of the death of a loved one is to be there while they sort through their feelings, but not tell them what they should feel. “Accept their feelings,” says Lewin, “even though those feelings may be very intense.”

Lewin also recommends being honest with your kids, but sharing information in an age appropriate way. When answering your child’s questions remember to consider: what the child wants to know, what the child needs to know, and what the child can understand.

Death is tragic and kids need to know that it is okay to express emotions and be sad. Modeling grief is good for your kids. “Children benefit from seeing adults cry. Tears validate the deep emotions the child has and gives them permission to cry too,” explains Suzy Yehl Marta.

Grieving is hard on the surviving parent and tough to manage without the help of family, friends and outside resources. Reaching out to school counselors, teachers, and support groups will help you and your child feel that you are not alone. “A tween needs trusted adults to teach them how to grieve and provide them with compassionate companions that offer them the opportunities to mourn out loud,” says Yehl Marta

Creating a New Normal
Although life will never be the same, if children are allowed to fully mourn their loss, they can experience a positive childhood and even find deeper meaning in life. Unlike grownups, kids’ feelings of grief are intense and sporadic. At each stage of development, kids will revisit their loss and take new meaning from it. ” They will miss their parent in different ways and for different reasons as they grow up,” explains Jennifer Edwards, an expert in stress management.

While important for most children, it is crucial for preteens to meet and socialize with other kids going through a similar experience. Preteens need to feel “normal” and that they “fit in”. “This loss makes them different and sets them apart from their peers,” says Dr. Lippman. Preteens often have the sense that none of their friends understand what they are going through, which can make them feel intensely lonely. Jana Glass, Program Director of Kate’s Club, adds, “Socializing with other kids in similar situations is critical. Sharing feelings with peers breaks down the sense of isolation.”

It is important to integrate memories of the deceased parent into daily life. “Talking about the dead person may be painful at times, but is also a crucial part of the mourning and healing process,” says Deirdre Lewin. Roberta Temes, author of Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief, suggests engaging in family projects, such as making a slideshow of photographs or collage, or writing a song, story or poem. Temes advises, “Don’t pretend the person never existed. State that you are sad when you are sad, and that you are thinking of the deceased when you are thinking of the deceased.  Admit your distress and then demonstrate that you are going on with your life even though you feel so sad.”

Signs of Healthy Grieving
Dr. Robin Goodman considers it important for children to engage in different grief-related tasks. Over time, you should expect your child to:

  • Accept the reality and permanence of death.
  • Experience and cope with difficult emotional reactions.
  • Adjust to changes in their lives and changes in their identity that result from the death.
  • Develop new relationships or deepen existing ones.
  • Maintain a continuing, healthy attachment to the deceased person through remembrance activities.
  • Find some meaning in the death and learn about life or oneself.
  • Continue through the normal developmental stages.
Dec 29, 2009

Why is My Tween Afraid to Leave Home? Understanding Chronic Anxiety

It’s puzzling and scary for Ryan’s parents. It seemed as if overnight their once happy, social 10 year old did not want to leave home to go to school, or go out and play with friends the way he used to. Ryan can’t explain it himself. “I just get nervous about it and then my stomach hurts, I get cramps, and feel like I have to go to the bathroom.” Now Ryan worries about getting a stomachache whenever he’s away from home.

Tiara who is 11 was always a shy, cautious child who had separation anxiety every year when school first started, but managed to eventually adjust. But this year, she’s having a tough time with math and the homework load often overwhelms her. Tiara worries almost all the time about school and that she may be called on to go to the board to do a math problem, or that she’ll never be able to understand the homework. Though she goes to school without complaint, Tiara suffers in silence.

Symptoms of Anxiety Pack a Wallop

Both Ryan and Tiara are developing chronic anxiety. And once a child experiences the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety, and it happens over and over again, it’s understandable why they don’t want to go out the door. First the physical symptoms of anxiety are powerful and disturbing:


  • It starts with a heart-pounding adrenaline rush which includes other stress hormones.
  • Breathing becomes rapid and shallow making it tough to catch your breath, often leading to feelings of being smothered or trapped.
  • Dizziness, numbness and feeling faint are common symptoms.
  • Muscles tense causing headaches, or chest pain and body aches.
  • Voiding of bowel and bladder occurs, causing cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Sweating occurs as the body cools itself, a hot flush may occur too.


The mental symptoms pack a punch, too, playing havoc with cognitive functioning making it difficult to think clearly, reason and learn. Anxious children may complain about feeling frightened, helpless, and out of control. Some kids feel like they are having an out of body experience, others get angry or feel ashamed and isolated.

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, but even milder symptoms can be distressful. Avoiding places and situations often seems like the only option for an anxious child. Look at it from Ryan’s point of view. He says to his parents, “If I go to school or a friend’s house I may get a stomachache, but when I stay home I feel better.” Tiara feels better on Friday afternoons. . “On Friday after school I can take a break and not have to think about math or school at all.” But when Sunday afternoon comes around, Tiara begins to worry about Monday morning and her anxiety starts to build.

Worry is a Culprit

A main ingredient of anxiety is worry: thinking or obsessing about past experiences and worrying that they will happen again. When Tiara thinks about being in school she replays embarrassing moments in class when she couldn’t work out a math problem on the board, or failed a math test. Then she projects those memories into the future: “What if my teacher calls me to the board?” “What if we have a math quiz again?” Ryan worries too. “What if my stomach hurts and I feel like diarrhea in class and I can’t leave the room?” “What if it happens at a friend’s house?” And it’s worry that jump starts the fight or flight–one ounce of worry and the symptoms are raging.

What’s Happening to Me? It’s the Fight or Flight

A first crucial step in helping your tween is to explain why the symptoms are occurring. Symptoms occur because of something called the “fight or flight response” that is an alarm system located in the nervous system. It warns the body of physical danger and activates a reaction to avoid injury or death. In anxious children, this alarm goes off when a perception of danger is present, for example a math test. It’s only a false alarm though because the brain cannot distinguish between a real physical threat to life and limb, or to the fear of something benign.

The fight or flight has allowed humans to survive to this day. But its purpose is to act as a short-term response to a physical threat, not as a continuous state of mind and body leading to chronic anxiety. And when your child’s fight or flight revs up while she’s taking a test, or sitting in the classroom, there’s no outlet for this response, no relief, no running away, no battle to win. Your child has to sit there trying to deal with an internal hurricane.

The False Alarm Explanation

An easy way to explain the fight or flight is by using a home smoke detector. Show your child that you can set off the smoke detector either by frying something in the kitchen or by pushing the button on the detector. Say, “See, the detector thinks there is a fire and the alarm is going off, even though there is no fire. But the detector doesn’t know we’re fooling it. It gets the message that a fire is occurring and does its job. That’s what happens to your brain, it thinks the math test (or other fear) you’re worrying about is a real physical danger and the alarm goes off to protect you.”

When Ryan understood what the fight or flight was, and he began to make his way out to play with friends again, when he felt anxiety begin he learned to say to himself, “I don’t like the way I feel but it’s nothing more than an adrenaline rush.” This helped him to take control of his fears of the symptoms. Hearing the false alarm explanation helped Tiara too. When she felt anxious she pictured little firemen (or firegirls) running around inside of her, seeing no fire, and turning off the alarm.

In the end, for many children it’s the fear of the symptoms that turns anxiety into a chronic condition and makes kids want to feel better and safe by staying home. Also tell your child, “I know that what you feel is disturbing and can be frightening, but these are just feelings and they can’t hurt you.”

Nov 26, 2009

Why Does New Moon and the Twilight Series Fascinate Tweens?

Tweens and teens will be flocking to the theater this weekend to see the movie New Moon. The Twilight Saga books, the movie is based on is the second, have become a national phenomenon making fans of preteen girls to women in their fifties. So, what is all the fuss about? Kristine Gasbarre, author and celebrity editor of says, “The relationship between Bella and Edward is the epitome of young romance. They ignore all obstacles in their way because their longing for each other is so overpowering.” Add Edward’s masculine strength and his desire to protect Bella and you have the formula for a thrilling romance.

Many girls fantasize about being completely desired and adored in a romantic relationship. One of the most compelling aspects of Twilight is that Edward cannot fight his urge to be with Bella even though he knows that as a vampire everything about their relationship is unnatural and fraught with risk. According to Sari Cooper, a New York City Sex Therapist, this type of fantasy is normal. “The experience of being desired is a huge turn on for women and Edward can’t get enough of Bella.”

However, understanding the difference between fantasy and reality is key. Sari points out that the wonderful thing about daydreaming is that the person fantasizing is in control, which makes it safe. “No one is going to get hurt.” In Twilight, Edward saves Bella from a gang of men about to attack her. He is so furious that it takes all of his will power not to avenge Bella by killing them. In a book this may seem romantic, but in real life it would be terrifying. Sari recommends that parents not only read the books or see the movies, but also ask their daughters how they would feel if the situations described happened in reality. “It’s exciting to watch someone get rescued in a movie, but we would not necessarily want to experience it in real life.”

Critics of the Twilight series have raised concerns about girls confusing the fantasies of romantic love in the books with the realities of abusive relationships. Gina R. Dalfonzo writes in her essay for National Review:

He [Edward] spies on Bella while she sleeps, eavesdrops on her conversations, reads her classmates’ minds, forges her signature, tries to dictate her choice of friends, encourages her to deceive her father, disables her truck, has his family hold her at his house against her will, and enters her house when no one’s there — all because, he explains, he wants her to be safe. He warns Bella how dangerous he is, but gets “furious” at anyone else who tries to warn or protect her. He even drags her to the prom against her expressed wishes. He is, in short, one of modern fiction’s best candidates for a restraining order.

By romanticizing Edward and Bella’s relationship, girls run the risk of not recognizing signs of abuse in boyfriends once they start dating. The Twilight Saga offers an important opportunity for parents to have an ongoing dialogue about the series with their daughters. In an age-appropriate way, parents can discuss thepositive and negative attributes in different types of romantic relationships.

So, what can parents do to help their daughter’s develop healthy relationships? Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, says that girls first need to focus on establishing positive relationships with each other. “Girls first learn how to be emotionally intimate with their friends. Through their experience of love between best friends, girls can experience profoundly attached intimacy. Other than the lack of physical attraction, the mechanics are no different.”

Friendships give girls the opportunity to develop positive communication skills, have respectful disagreements, be interdependent, and share mutual empathy. Girls need to gain an understanding of themselves, their feelings and their boundaries in order to achieve these skills. To have a positive sense of self, girls need both self-respect and the respect of their friends. They need believe that their needs and interests are integral to the friendship. This involves the ability to be simultaneously proactive about their wishes while also respecting their friends’ boundaries.

Inevitably, girls will “break up” with some of their friends. Rachel Simmons points out, “Heartbreak happens in all friendships. When a girl looses her best friend she is entitled to be devastated, write bad poetry, listen to sad music, and eat ice cream. After awhile it is important for her to get back into the world and “friend-date” again.” By realizing that they have the resilience to get through the ups and downs of these early relationships, girls gain the confidence they need to expect appropriate boundaries in their romantic lives. By asserting their needs in both friendship and love, girls are more likely to find someone who fulfills their inner desire to be adored for their true selves.

Nov 21, 2009

Is Your Tween Scheduled or Over-Scheduled?

The vision of a super busy person isn’t a new concept; it’s certainly familiar to all of us. In fact, it can sometimes be perceived as a badge of honor. Perhaps it’s because the more we’re involved in, the more we believe it says about our own drive and achievement orientation, right? Why should we expect our preteens to march to the same drum? Maybe it’s part of the picture that focuses on keeping our tweens busy while we’re occupied or making sure our kids aren’t, gasp, bored. Or, maybe it’s a drive to push our kids to be the best they can be. Or, maybe we want to give our children what we didn’t have access to when we were their age. Or…maybe we just haven’t paused our own lives long enough to really think about it. Our guess is that it’s some combination of the above.

We’re All Busy!

The parallels with adult life are apparent. Compared with 1960, the average American family is working 160 hours more each year (that’s an additional month of average work weeks each year!). In the past 20 years, some important family activities have been on the decline (family dinners have declined 33% and family vacations have decreased by 28%). On top of the dramatic increase in work, there are different stresses in the world than when we grew up. First, we live in a society where safety, on many levels, is a real concern. Second, most families don’t have childcare readily accessible from within their family and community. Also, we’re in a state of significant financial insecurity; gone are the days of retiring after 40 years with the same company.

Everyone Needs Balance!

One thing is certain. There’s a great deal of debate over where to draw the line between a child being busy enough and being too busy. The balance that needs to be achieved will be different for every child on the basis of his/her academic needs, temperament, environment, and the family’s needs.

Too Many Activities?

Some experts contend that children who are involved in a near constant flow of activities don’t have the opportunity to learn to be at ease when they’re alone. Having lived by activity schedules and often being around other people, they aren’t able to learn the joy of solitude and they aren’t given an opportunity to express creativity, daydream and self-reflect. More important, perhaps, they haven’t realized the value of making time for fun. This, along with achievement pressure and a decrease in family time are the frequently cited issues.

Research has shown that an overbooked child can lead to a less active teenager. Simply put, over-scheduled children may become burned out later in life. Research also suggests that children who have played a sport with intensity for an extended period of time eventually tire of the activity as it becomes routine and the love of the sport is lost (which might explain why 70% of kids quit playing their favorite sport by their teens!).

Too Much Free Time?

On the flipside, Susan M. McHale, Ph.D., of Penn State led a study that monitored how fourth and fifth graders spent their free time. Her team examined school grades, depression levels and parental reports at the beginning and end of a two-year period. Devoting more free time to structured and supervised activities such as hobbies and sports appears to enhance a tween’s academic, emotional and behavioral development at this age. Spending more time playing outdoors and hanging out, in contrast, appear to have a negative impact on development. Contrary to popular belief, recent research rejects the notion that most kids are over-scheduled and are suffering as a result. In fact, less than one in ten could be described as over-scheduled and involvement in those extracurricular activities can be linked with positive social, behavioral, and psychological outcomes. Other research also indicated that extracurricular participation up to ten hours per week was almost always positive, and participation up to 15 and even 20 hours per week was generally associated with positive development. Academic performance and emotional stability levels off or declines after extracurricular involvement beyond 20 hours per week (as a point of reference, only 3-6% of the child and youth population participate more than 20 hours per week).*

Determine the Balance

It’s important to consider what the right balance is, so that your tween has enough to keep him/her stimulated and challenged, but not so much that they’re overwhelmed.

Experts suggest that, with your guidance, let your preteen choose their after school activities, along with how busy they want to be, but watch for signs of burnout. To help you think about whether your tween may be participating in too many activities, consider the following:

• Does your child go from one activity to another with little or no enthusiasm?
• Is he/she having trouble sleeping at night?
• Does he/she complain of not having enough time to spend with friends?
• Is the phrase “hurry up or we’ll be late” used excessively?
• When did he/she last participate in “quality” family time?
• Does your child have time to explore different interests (other than activities) that they may have?
• Does he/she enjoy the activity or is he/she particularly self-critical as an outcome of some/all activities?

Beyond the sheer volume of activities, we also need to focus on the participation impact to our preteen. The intense and critical focus on performance in these activities may be the greater impact, causing stress and other issues. While the research says extracurricular activities provide a positive outlet for children and lower the likelihood of risky behavior, over-scheduling a child can introduce other stress factors that might potentially lead to a burned-out child. Remember, some of the best interactions with our tweens occur during downtime-just talking, preparing meals together, working on a hobby or art project, playing sports together, or being fully immersed in childhood.

Oct 31, 2009

Getting Our Boys to Talk: Teach the Language of Feelings

Why Don’t Boys Talk?

  • Boys don’t talk because they think it’s safer not to talk.
  • Boys don’t talk because they don’t want to reveal their vulnerabilities and be perceived as weak.
  • Boys don’t talk because they have not learned how to label or express their feelings in words.
  • Boys don’t talk because of their fear of being misjudged and permanently labeled.


Boys create a shield to protect themselves, to hide any appearance of having “soft” emotions. This shield takes the form of boys’ maintaining a veil of apparent competence, which makes it difficult for them to communicate freely and effectively about their fears or feelings, or even to ask for help. For boys the biggest insult is to be called a “wuss,” “fag,” or “mama’s boy.” Boys have a profound fear of failure and discomfort with intimacy that comes from their need to avoid being identified with such labels. For fear of being perceived as soft, boys reject qualities that they think will call attention to their feelings.

When parents do not teach boys the language of feelings, they are placed at a disadvantage in their ability to attach labels to experiences. By failing to ask questions that may reveal a boy’s fear, parents give their sons a non-verbal message that fear is not an acceptable feeling for a young boy to have or admit that he has. A fascinating study by Robin Fivish shows that mothers use fewer words, particularly words that describe feelings with their sons than they do with their daughters. Parents omit many feeling words while they talk to their sons, and what we don’t say can be as or more powerful than what we do say. The absence of a vocabulary describing a range of feelings makes our attempts to talk to our sons in adolescence even more difficult.

So what can parents do?

Parents must get the message across to their boys that understanding their inner lives empowers them, rather than makes them weak in order to help them to create a road map to guide their inner life. Boys need to learn the nuances of what they are feeling, for example, to be able to distinguish between anger and sadness or anger and frustration. Parents should provide their sons with the skills they need to connect with their feelings and channel their anger into productive alternatives. It is not difficult to see how boys, without these skills and vocabulary, turn to violence as a means of expressing themselves and proving their competence.

This narrow definition of masculinity places boys inside a box that limits their emotional and relational development. Healthy psychological development is typically marked by progressive acquisition and integration of new skills and qualities. In contrast, traditional male socialization, as described by psychotherapist, Terrance Real, reflects a process of disconnection marked by successive “disavowing” and loss of qualities essential to boys’ emotional and psychological well-being. This lack of emotional connection can influence boys to behave in disrespectful and antisocial ways toward their parents, teachers and peers.

If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or a mental health professional. Don’t dismiss what you see. We need to call attention to the dangers inherent in “shrugging off” inappropriate behavior. One school administrator told us that instead of having “metal detectors” in school, they would be better off investing in “depression detectors.” An antidote for depression is understanding your emotions. This understanding has a protective value against depression.

Every family has operating principles and values that are unique to it and will affect what strategies work and which do not. We encourage you to be confident in teaching those principles and values that are specific to your culture and heritage. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility, variety, and a sense of humor are critical to getting through to your sons during these turbulent years. Trust your instincts, and initiate and maintain emotional connections with your sons.

Where do we go from here? Strategies to Teach the Language of Feelings:

  • Label a feeling from an early age and interpret experiences from a feeling level to promote emotional intelligence. Teach the impact of behaviors and actions on others- for example, ask your son, “When you did that, how do you think I felt?”
  • Teach your boy to handle toughness and tenderness. Work to harness his energy in a way that includes his sweetness, vulnerability, loyalty and commitment, protectiveness, honor, and integrity. These are also genuine characteristics of boys. Praise them and acknowledge their acts of kindness.
  • Early on, parents need to try to teach their sons empathy, and they need to mentor them on relational skills. Initially, you do this by talking about your own feelings and theirs. Your personal stories will reach your child in a way that lecturing never can. No one listens to a sermon.
  • Teach by example. Try to resolve disputes calmly and reasonably without yelling. Talk about the reality of their lives and your own personal experiences. Share with them your successes and your failures. As our sons watch us handling our own challenging situations, they are learning how to handle theirs.
  • Share your feelings about the day, issues, and relationships. Remember regardless of what they may say, our sons still care about what we think. Discuss openly with your partner his or her feelings so children know it’s okay to express feelings out loud without feeling shame or embarrassment.
  • Remember that depression in boys may look different than what you expect. Pay attention to symptoms of male depression, such as losing interest in activities that he has previously enjoyed, increased isolation or agitation, and/or harsh self-criticism and self-medication with alcohol or drugs. If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or mental health professional.
  • Be careful to avoid putting permanent labels on our sons because they have shared one particular comment or displayed one type of behavior. Instead, we need to give them the message that what they tell us they feel today will not forever define them.


Anyone who says these years are easy has never lived or worked with an adolescent boy. However, we believe that these years are also filled with wonder, tenderness, and opportunities for personal growth for parents. They contain experiences and moments to be treasured for those who stay involved, who stay connected.

Oct 28, 2009

Online Social Networks and Tweens

The only thing moving faster than tweens growing up is the ever-changing technology landscape! It’s hard enough, as adults, to stay abreast of moving-at-the-speed-of-light technology, but in order to offer guidance, we need to try to stay one step ahead (or at least a half of a step!).

There is no doubt that online social networking is here to stay – it’s one of the hottest, evolving trends for people who share similar interests. New social networking websites are being introduced all the time. In addition to the teen/adult focused sites that, not surprisingly, some tweens use (such as facebook, myspace and bebo), the more popular tween-focused social networking sites include: allykatzz, imbee, stardoll, whyville. clubpenguin, and webkinz, to name a handful. Each site has some basic similarities, but each also has it’s own “personality.”

When you think about it, there’s always been some form of communication that preteens overused to keep in touch with their peers. In the early 1900s, it was letter writing. Then, it was the phone. So, now it’s the internet — the bottom line is, kids have a strong need to socialize with each other!
Development Stage Impacts on Tweens’ Social Networking Needs

When considering approaches for parental involvement, it’s important to understand your tween’s position on the development continuum. According to the Byron Review, “Children and New Technology,” young tweens…are still immature at self-regulation, and their ability to inhibit and control impulses and emotions is still well below that observed in adults. This is the time when children begin exploring websites beyond the boundaries originally set for them by their parents.” Management of their “media diet” should begin to move from heavy control to supervision and increased discussion about online behavior. The goal is to support your tween to develop critical evaluation and self-management skills.

With older tweens, according to the Byron Review, they’re experiencing “a significant drive for social interactions. The focus of the child’s social world changes from the home and family to the external world, to peers and idols as individuation (the process of disengaging from the family unit, and beginning to become an autonomous, independent adult) begins.” It’s a time “to move towards collaborative management…empower them by discussing risk and mediate interpretation of challenging content.”

From a preteen’s perspective, social networking can be an exciting experience and a wonderful learning opportunity. The chance to share, learn and compare with another peer can be fascinating. But, as parents, we need to provide our preteens with insights and tools to be aware of basic safety precautions, online etiquette, and an appropriate amount of screen time.
Social Networking Isn’t All Bad!

Once safey, appropriateness and commercialism are addressed, used effectively, social networking sites can offer benefits for tweens:

  • Gives preteens an opportunity to interact with friends (both “real world” friends that they convene with online as well as “cyber” friends that they meet through low-risk socializing).
  • Allows tweens to distance themselves from real time, in-person interactions, to effectively take a break. While a steady diet of only this type of interaction would be too much, it offers a complement to school, where children interact with each other every day, throughout the day.
  • Enables tweens to construct their thoughts in a written format, giving them a chance to edit before they share their ideas.
  • Offers a means to gain basic computer literacy experience. As homework demands increase and use of the computer and internet become tools to help support learning, having keyboarding and general usage skills can be of value.
  • Provides a way to share creative works. This could also be an opportunity to become familiar with document software and  21st century journaling!
  • Promotes familiarity with marketplace activities. Some of the sites offer educational potential in the form of introducing earning opportunities and strategies for gaming success.

Safe Online Social Networking

First and foremost, educate yourself. You can hear about sites from your tween and their friends in addition to doing your own research (do a search for “top tween social networking sites” to find out the most recent additions to the mix). Read about these sites and visit them to get the most comprehensive picture.

In addition, consider some basic social networking tips and suggestions as you help your preteen navigate online social networks safely and effectively:

  • Keep the computer out of private spaces, so you can always take a look at what sites your child is visiting (and they’ll know you’re nearby while they’re socializing).
  • Join your child’s online groups, either via sites that require your permission to join or by adding your own profile and insisting that your child “friend” you.
  • Share your thoughts about communications etiquette with your child. Ensure your preteen thinks about the impact of words (without body language) in the form of written communications. Words can be misinterpreted.
  • Ensure that your tween understands the need for privacy and not sharing personal information on line.
  • Finally, reinforce the importance of telling you when something doesn’t feel right about an online interaction.
Apr 28, 2009

Buying Your Preteen Her First Bra

Buying your preteen her first bra is a right of passage.  It represents the onset of adolescence and is an excellent opportunity to bond with your daughter.  Whether or not you buy your daughter’s first bra in a store or on-line, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the event by going out to lunch, seeing a movie, or completing the purchase with a new outfit for your daughter!  Of course, it’s also important to remember that this might be a private moment for your preteen.  She may be self-conscious about the changes going on in her body and may not want to share this new phase with siblings or other grown-ups.  Being available to your daughter at this time opens up the opportunity for other conversations about growing up and having a healty body image.  It can be an uplifting experience and have a positive impact on your daughter’s self-esteem.

When to Buy
Most experts recommend buying your daughter’s first bra during the early stages of breast development called the breast bud stage. Typically, this stage happens between 8-13 years old, and often mirrors the child’s mother’s experience of growth during puberty.

Girls who develop early or later than their friends may feel uncomfortable with their bodies and become concerned about fitting in with their peer group.  For early developers, a cami or sports bra is a good solution as it can even out the contours of your preteen’s body, making her feel less self-conscious. Late bloomers, may request a bra in order to fit in with their friends. Changing clothes during gym classes, slumber parties and camp can make preteens feel exposed and embarrassed. There is no harm in buying a bra for a late developer if it helps make her feel more comfortable. The most important thing to do at this stage is to reassure your daughter that her development is normal, so she will feel positive about her body.

What to Buy
In this early stage, a bralette (aka training bra), cami or sports bra are good options. Training bras are not meant to offer support, but instead offer comfort and protection while young and often tender breasts are developing. Since it is your daughter’s first experience wearing a bra, it is important to find one that fits well. A good fit means that the bra stays in place across her rib cage, is not too tight and feels comfortable. Feeling at ease while wearing her new bra will help your daughter feel good about her growing body.

As your daughter grows, she will need to buy a bra with more support. Wearing the correct size bra will help your preteen feel less restricted and make her figure look proportionate. In order to achieve this, you will need to know your daughter’s band and cup size. Since the thought of being measured at a specialty bra shop may be intimidating to your preteen, consider using a bra size calculatorto find the right fit.

When buying bras, your daughter should consider the different styles of clothes she wears. Will the design of the bra work underneath all her shirts? Is she active in sports – does she need a sports bra? Don’t forget to buy a few bras so that they can be regularly laundered.

Where to Buy
Luckily, preteens have lots of options when it comes to buying bras. Best of all, if your daughter doesn’t feel comfortable shopping in a store, you can shop on-line together in the privacy of your home. found some stores that we think offer a good selection of bras for preteens and young teens.