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Jane Lynch Urges Students: Don’t Major in Debt

Written on July 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm , by

It’s never too early to start thinking about financing your kids’ educations. Even if your teens aren’t packing up their belongings to head off to college this fall, paying for school is always on the horizon. And with more and more horror stories about growing student debt and crippling loan interests, it’s imperative to make smart finance decisions.

Yesterday, actress Jane Lynch, best known for her role on Glee, along with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), unveiled a new resource to help parents and students find the best way to finance a college degree. The new National College Finance Center website, collegefinancecenter.org, along with a “Don’t Major in Debt” PSA were revealed. The free and unbiased website will help students and parents find the right loan and understand the terms, and help young adults manage their debt. State-specific information about available grants and scholarships will also be provided to help customize the right path to your teen’s college education.

Jane Lynch became involved with the campaign after seeing her own nieces and nephews struggle with debt during college and after graduating. Knowing her 10-year-old daughter will be looking at universities in the not too distant future made helping the organization even more important to Jane.

College debt is now the number two reason people file for bankruptcy, a statistic the National College Finance Center hopes to change soon. Whether your teen is heading to college in the next few years, or even if a university education is far off in the future, you can start educating yourself on the best way to make that degree a reality without being saddled with debt.

Bridget Mallon is an articles intern at Family Circle.

My Daughter’s Prom Was a Big Success

Written on June 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm , by

 Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

All I can say is now that the prom is over, I’m so relieved and a bit exhausted! Even with that big sigh of relief, I want to tell you that M’s prom can certainly be described as a BIG success. A success from a parent point of view, because as far as I know, there were no problems or situations requiring me to run to rescue my daughter, her date or any of her friends from trouble. There were no frantic calls for emergency supplies of comfortable shoes, safety pins, hair spray or first-aid supplies. And a big success because my lovely daughter left the house happy and excited and arrived home smiling and exhausted.

The preparations began as usual with a trip to the local hair salon. Umberto Los Angeles was hopping with excited teens and their parents and there were two girls from the class leaving with finished styles just as we arrived. M began her salon experience with a manicure and pedicure in matching pale pink polish. Then she went off to get her hair washed. I think I was allowed to tag along at the salon not only to pay the bills but also to advise her on her hair style. She really wasn’t that interested in any of my suggestions from the salon magazines or pictures of celebrity hairstyles we found on the Internet. Then we looked at the Momster Prom 2012 hairstyle article on my smartphone while she was sitting in the stylist’s chair. That helped! M decided on long, romantic curls without any ornaments, clips or fancy braiding. And as it turned out, she was right because it was so pretty!

While M was getting her hair washed, another of her friends was getting the finishing touches on her updo with our hair stylist. So I had a nice chat with her, took a photo and emailed it to her mother. Then when M was in the chair, the other girl went off to get her makeup done at the MAC counter in the department store at the mall.

After M’s hair was completed, we drove to the home of a very close friend of hers we’ll call “J”. J happens to be extremely artistic and this skill extends itself to makeup application. She had volunteered to make M up and she was so good at it, I think I’ll have to hire her for my next big event!  She’s just that talented and took all the right steps to clean her brushes and keep everything professionally organized in kits from Sephora and The Container Store. She also spent a lot of time considering shades and materials to give M just the right soft, sophisticated look. I asked her how she learned to do makeup application at her young age and she replied, “from watching lots of YouTube videos and lots of practice.”

By the time we arrived back home, M’s date and steady boyfriend “S” had arrived with his mom. We had to sneak M past him so she could finish dressing without him seeing her. Then with her dress and glittering sandals and earrings in place, she emerged to loads of “oohs” from her boyfriend, his mother, her parents and even her little sister. Then we took a few photos in our living room as S put the wrist corsage in place and then we all jumped into the car for the short drive to the “pre-prom” festivities.

I’m not sure we had a “pre-prom” when I was in high school but what a super idea! One of the grad’s parents hosted a backyard event where the parents and siblings could visit with each other, take photos of the prom-goers and enjoy the warm summer evening together. Many of the families have become close after more than 15 years of having our children in school together. After an hour of socializing, the parents peeled off for other events and dinners back at home. A party bus came to the house to take all the kids and their dates off to the prom.

The prom was held in a party space that was, up until recently, a Hollywood nightclub. There were parent chaperones and security provided by the site. They had music and dancing and the festivities went on until about 1:30 a.m. when the party bus came back and took the kids home. One interesting innovation: there was a special “after prom” time during the evening where underclassmen and friends of the students who had purchased tickets could join the prom goers. That seems like a nice way to carve out separate events, raise additional funds and include as many students from this small school as possible.

After talking to few other moms today, most of the kids had a wonderful time. One boy was heard to describe the evening as “overrated” but he was the exception. For the other kids, last night they felt a connection to each other, an electric feeling that lasted all prom night long. There is something magical that can give two kids on a prom date a special bond and a lasting memory. At the same time, there’s an inherent pressure that prom night should be “perfect” and completely different from regular teen life. That kind of pressure can backfire and cause anyone to feel deflated, disappointed, and a bit of “is that all there is?” Fortunately, life will present many more occasions for our teens to put on some fancy clothes, spend too much money and stay out too late. But there is never anything quite as exhilarating as the preparation that goes into prom and for that, I’ve been happy to share all of it with you.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog atwww.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

Celebrity Q&A: Angie Harmon

Written on May 29, 2012 at 10:58 am , by

By Patty A. Martinez

Rizzoli & Isles star Angie Harmon plays a tough-as-nailscop on her hit television show, but she relaxes the rules at home with daughters Finley, 8, Avery, 7, and Emery, 3.

Your family moved to North Carolina two years ago, but you spend six months a year shooting in Los Angeles. How does that work?
The girls come to L.A. when they’re on summer break, but I’m still on my own for three months a year. It’s difficult, but Jason [Sehorn, a retired NFL player] is great at playing the single dad. I Skype with the girls every night, and Jason films family events for me. Thank God for modern technology!

Working mothers tend to have guilt. What do you beat yourself up over?
How long do you have? Because I could go on and on! I feel like the worst parent in the world every time I get on a plane. Or when I miss their school awards. They get recognized for embodying positive character traits like honesty, and it means a lot to them to be celebrated.

Why did you decide to raise them in the South?
Having grown up in Texas, I was uncomfortable with how fast things were moving in L.A. My little girls were getting exposed to life too early. I want to keep them kids as long as I can.

What are Jason’s best Mr. Mom skills?
Getting the girls dressed in the morning. He coordinates their outfits better than I do—that’s probably embarrassing for both of us. They come out looking ready for a photo shoot. I ask, “Did you put this together?” And they say, “Nope, Daddy did!”

Anything not quite up to your standards?
Jason, make them brush their teeth!

How does he deal with four females?
He plays golf! Seriously, I don’t think it bothers him. He’s a very good dad. He wants the girls to know he’s their number one fan and protector. He loves them endlessly.

As an only child, do you find it hard to relate to your daughters’ sisterly dynamic?
Yes, the I’m-going-to-drive-my-sister-crazy-just-because-I-can thing is so bizarre to me. We’ll be picking a movie to watch and one of them will say, “That’s the one I want.” And another one will be like, “No!” just to get her sister’s goat. And I’m thinking, I don’t understand you people!

Do you ever wish for a parent do-over?
All the time. Of course I snap at my kids. In the South we call it “showing your rear end.” But when I tuck them in at night I say, “Sorry Mommy hissed at you—Mommy was tired.”

Tell us about a recent lesson your kids taught you.
The other day Avery was trying to get her seatbelt on. She tried twice before Finley said, “I’ll do it.” After her two tries I turned around and said, “Here, let me do it.” And then all of a sudden Jason said, “No, I’ll do it!” I was just like, “Everybody stop! Avery, put your seatbelt on, baby. You can do it.” She’s not going to learn anything if we’re always helping her.”

Are there any attributes you hope to pass down to your girls?
Strength, courage, tenacity and kindness. I also want them to recognize that no one is better than anyone else.

And which ones would you rather skip a generation?
My quick temper—it’s something I work on every single day. And when I succeed by keeping it in check, I feel great.

Fast Facts

 

The most embarrassing song on my iPod is… “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. “I turn it on when I’m in a bad mood. After I listen a few times, I’m like, ‘OK—life’s not so bad.’”

I never miss an episode of… Hoarders. “I watch it, then I stay up until 3 a.m. cleaning out the linen closet. I tell Jason, ‘I have to get rid of this stuff—we’re hoarders!’ He’s like, ‘You’re just now realizing that?’“

Food I can’t live without: ”Salt! Is that considered a food? It is to me!”

My motto: “’I know what I stand for, I know what I don’t stand for, and may I have the courage to live my life accordingly.’ I came up with that in my early 20s and have always stuck to it.”

My favorite time of day is… Dinner. “I love cooking while the sun goes down. The dogs lay in the kitchen, Jason and I talk over a glass of wine and the girls run around like crazy people. There’s nothing better.”

I’m proud my kids have… “a wicked sense of humor. You can pretty much laugh your way through anything.”

My kids always bring a smile to my face when they… “say there was no thorn in their day when we play Rose & Thorn. Sometimes I know for a fact they experienced a few disappointments, so for them to reflect and decide, ‘Oh, it wasn’t so bad’ … It’s my Super Mom moment.”

Prom Shopping for Teen Boys

Written on May 17, 2012 at 10:13 am , by

 

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

If I were to say to you “prom” and “fashion,” you immediately think of dresses, long and short, sparkly and sleek. Did you even consider what the boys are wearing? Moms of boys deserve equal time here! As I’ve been worrying about what my daughter was going to wear to her prom, I completely ignored what her boyfriend was doing to figure his own clothing out. Before I discuss that, I have to think back to my own high school days and what the boys did back then for prom clothing.

At my Southern California high school, there was the usual assortment of groups and cliques, each identified by what they wore or how they styled themselves. Open up any of my yearbooks and you’ll see styles of clothing for boys and girls ranging from retro preppies (remember The Preppy Handbook?) and 50’s rockabilly styles to surfers and punks. It was a pretty fertile playground for fashion experimentation and embarrassing yearbook photos.

Influenced perhaps by their parents, many of whom were employed in the entertainment industry, the boys at my school were willing to experiment with clothing and hairstyles. Many of us followed the fashion we were seeing on TV and in local clubs: Farrah-feathered hair styled with mousse and gel, lace and leather, black eyeliner or pukka shell necklaces. Camp Beverly Hills t-shirts and tight, high-waist jeans.

When prom rolled around, most people seemed to conform what they wore to evening attire standards. As I recall, the nightmare for most girls was if their boyfriend chose a colored tuxedo or (shudder) the dreaded tuxedo shirt with a ruffled front. If anyone’s date showed up with “interesting” shoes like Vans surfer shoes or a flamboyant bowtie, I don’t recall any fuss. My own date played it safe in his father’s tuxedo with a plain front white shirt but he jazzed it up with an old top hat he’d found but was too shy to wear in any of the photos.

My daughter’s boyfriend styles himself a “hipster” in his everyday life: skinny jeans, funky hats and indie music tastes.  So I have to admit, I’ve been pretty curious if he’s spending any time putting his prom look together or is he going to play it safe with a standard black and white tux. M. told me he wanted to match his tie to her dress and when we dropped the dress off to be hemmed, we snipped a small bit of fabric to give him.  I asked his mom to give me a peek at what’s going on in their household:

It is now about 20 days until prom and M’s date S., who also happens to be her boyfriend of several months, has yet to take the first step to obtain his tuxedo. Well that’s not 100 percent correct: S. has summarily rejected his dad’s suggestion that he borrow the old tux that dad last wore to a wedding in 1991. Instead S. plans to go with his mom to a tuxedo rental shop sometime this week (or next). He hopes that they will still have some cool tuxedos in his size because he is slim. He does not want to wear a vest, but S. is most excited about the tie. In fact, S. has posed the question, “What do you think of a bow tie, mom?” S. believes that this may be one of the few occasions in his life that a bow tie may be an option. The tie is also important to S. because he hopes to color coordinate it and his handkerchief with M.’s dress. Then, there are the shoes and the socks. S. doesn’t want patent leather shoes, and he plans to wear his own hipster socks with hot pink heels. S. is pretty fashion conscious and yet he’s not sweating it because there are not too many choices for the young man going to prom. The biggest choice is the gal he asks and S. has got that covered.  He is very, very happy with his date. Oh one more thing, S is thinking about the corsage and boutonniere. He plans to go to the flower store soon, too.

Boys have many prom style options if they are willing to go out on a limb. From colored tuxedos (though I’m not a fan, personally) to varying the cut of the jacket (single breasted, double breasted, shawl-collared, etc.) to patterned or colored cummerbund, bowtie and pocket square, there are numerous ways a boy can corral a complete look that is true to their personality. Yes, there is pressure for the couple to achieve a “look.” It’s also possible the whole effort can go terribly wrong and condemn their prom night photos to the “Can you believe we wore this??” web pages of their future. No wonder so many kids decide to play it safe, get the standard black tux and just mess around with accessories that don’t cost much and can even be removed as the evening progresses.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog at www.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

“We Found the Perfect Prom Dress!”

Written on May 9, 2012 at 9:26 am , by

 

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

So let’s get caught up. M and I have been on the prowl for the perfect prom dress. Her stated requirements were that it be a flowing gown style with a fitted bodice. She prefers jewel colors like blue, green and purple. And we’d probably tried on or viewed online every blue, green or purple gown in Los Angeles and New York to no avail. At least until now.

Since I last wrote, we completed our amazing East Coast college tour. And it really was amazing: four colleges in upstate New York, New York’s Long Island and Philadelphia. We rode planes, trains and rented an automobile. We met eager tour guides and solicitous admissions officers. We asked a lot of questions and apparently toured the same cinder block dorm room four times.

And in between we shopped dresses. And then we went home, back to Los Angeles.

We then decided to ditch the suburban malls and department stores we’d been relying on. We headed downtown to the garment district where there were at least two massive bridal/prom dress emporia M had heard about. I was thrilled because downtown L.A. means wholesale and wholesale means discount prices, right?

It’s been a while since I wandered through the stalls and shops of Santee Street in downtown Los Angeles. I actually love the whole downtown shopping experience and many years ago, I even managed a wholesale clothes shop for a friend’s mom as a summer college job. I thought I was pretty cool with a key to open and close the store, manage the register and carry the zippered receipts bag back to their home each night. While much is the same in the “schmata district,” some had changed. Whereas before it seemed everyone spoke Spanish, Korean or Hebrew, this time I heard a lot of Farsi added to the spicy mix.

We chose to begin with the store with the more glamorous storefront. Two stories of open stock and a big crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling’s center. We were greeted by a nice, chicly dressed lady who quickly disappeared on us. Another bored but equally well appointed sales woman informed us we could only try on five dresses. Something about the stacks and stacks of dress racks and the little to no sales assistance and I was pretty unhappy. The disinterested staff only added to my confusion and disappointment. We drove all this way to be overwhelmed and left to search without help? It was almost a physical depiction of shopping on the internet gone wrong. The site might have a great home page, but then you find no system to help you locate what you need from the thousands of items listed on the site.

So we left and headed to the second store. Here, the entry was a little shabby and the security alarm beeped with each customer’s entrance. “Beep, beep,” as we walked in. No chandelier and the carpet was old and frayed. The sales staff didn’t appear as glamorous as at the first store but their smiles felt genuine, even if the stress of helping so many teens and their crazed moms was beginning to show.

The thousands of prom dresses hung in two levels of racks, extended both up to the high industrial ceiling and then back, back, back hundreds of feet in a nightmare-inducing fantasy of tulle and chiffon. The store manager played triage nurse and asked if we had an idea what we were looking for before she handed us off to another saleswoman. This gal was very young, terribly sweet and though she had trouble reaching the dresses on the higher tier, she never complained. Using a metal hook and bar device, she pulled a selection of beautiful teal, blue and purple gowns for us.

Then, M headed back to the dressing area under the supervision of a third and more seasoned saleswoman. The dressing area was a grouping of small dressing rooms, big enough only for one person and tucked in the farthest corner of the showroom. Each dressing room had a cafe door that allowed you to see the girl’s feet at the bottom and her head and shoulders at the top. To get in and out of each dress, the staff insisted on zipping and unzipping the dresses themselves, to prevent undue damage to the material. This meant each girl was compelled to step out of the changing room for assistance, and in many cases had much of their bare torso visible, at least on the side where the zipper was as they moved in and out of the dressing room.

There was by now a large assembly of about 20 people standing and sitting just a few feet away. Mothers, girlfriends, sisters were gathered to provide encouragement and advice. There were also a few young men (the prom dates, I suspect) and fathers standing around. It didn’t seem appropriate for each girl’s progress to be viewed by these men and boys so I turned to them, and as firmly and politely as possible said, “Please, all you men please step back and give our girls some privacy.” I was a little worried that I would offend someone but all the men stepped back quickly, almost relieved to put some distance between themselves and all the dress drama in this particular corner of the store. M was also happy I’d said something, though a little embarrassed I’d done it, too.

Dress on, dress off. Zippers down and up in rapid succession. I had some time between dress reviews for M so I started looking at the other girls and their dress choices. I didn’t mean to, but I found myself getting drawn into discussions with other shoppers about prom expenses and other concerns. One mother asked the price of her daughter’s dress and was told $450. She said, “I’ve never spent that much on a dress for myself!” then sank back in her chair dejectedly. Another girl, with an enviably sleek figure, was trying on a nude sheath dress, covered in small crystals that gave every inch a subtle and sexy shimmer. It was the dress a movie star might wear, a modern Marilyn Monroe singing to the President outfit. The gown was far more sexy than I could imagine on my own child but I had to admire how well the young woman looked in it. She was still hesitating over the purchase, despite her mother’s approval, and she wanted to see the dress in other color choices. Sighing, the group of middle-aged moms sitting around agreed, the girls were at the height of their beauty and wasn’t it great to see them so dressed up?

And then, M found it. The dress that made her smile and stand up a little taller. The saleswoman gave a sigh of pleasure and said, oh look, how pretty! It wasn’t exactly what M had described as her perfect dress. Far more crystals, and a natural, not empire waist. And it was quite a bit more expensive than I’d hoped. But otherwise, yes, it was a goddess confection of flowing fabric with two shades of teal blue that shift and dance in the light. The bodice is encrusted with chunky rhinestones.  M stood there, surrounded by the other girls and the admiring glances of my fellow prom moms. She gave a shy spin in the dress and asked if I could see the changes in color as she moved. I did, not only in the fabric but in the flush of excitement on her face. I asked her if this was the dress. She hesitated for the barest second and almost seemed surprised to nod back at me, yes. This is it. This is my prom dress.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog atwww.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

An Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Kids How to Invest

Written on May 1, 2012 at 9:10 am , by

 

By Stacey L. Bradford

Investing can be child’s play. A little wisdom now can lead to long-term gains for your kid’s future.

UNDER AGE 9: As soon as your child grasps the concept of a dollar, start talking about saving and delayed gratification.

1. Implement a weekly allowance. While some parents use it as a reward for completing chores around the house, it can also be a teaching tool to show that earning money is a separate and important skill, says Joline Godfrey, author of Raising Financially Fit Kids.

2. Help kids create a simple budget. Explain the benefits of putting money aside for toys, ice cream outings or other things Mom and Dad usually pay for.

AGES 9–12: Tweens are mature enough to appreciate the concept of using money to make money, says Godfrey.

1. Once your child has saved $100 from his allowance, take him to the bank to open a savings account. Allow him to fill out the paperwork so he gets comfortable interacting with financial institutions, says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a senior vice president with Charles Schwab.

2. Consider gifting your child one share of a publicly traded company that he likes, such as Walt Disney, Microsoft or Coca-Cola (share prices range between $30 and $70), suggests Justin Fulton, a principal at Signature in Norfolk, Virginia. Show him how to monitor the stock’s price online.

AGES 13–15: Teens are ready to grasp more complex financial lessons and may ask if investing is risky. While there’s no guarantee stocks will increase in value, over the past 10 years the stock market as a whole has appreciated 2%; in the past 20 years, 4%. Investing is also the best way to beat inflation, says Schwab-Pomerantz.

1. When your teen has at least $100 that is not earmarked for something else, open a custodial brokerage account and invest the money in an S&P 500 index fund. Buying this sort of mutual fund limits risk (you’re investing in a diversified basket of holdings). Review the monthly account statement with your teen.

2. Evaluate one of your own investment portfolios together. If you’ve been saving for your teen’s education, for example, share that account so she can see the choices you’ve made and how your -money has grown, recommends Fulton. It also helps her understand how much you’ve saved for her college years.

AGES 16–18: Let your teen manage her portfolio. It’s okay if she makes mistakes—the point is for her to get comfortable so she knows what to do when she’s eligible to contribute to a retirement account.

1. Arrange a meeting between your teen and a grandparent, friend or colleague who is knowledgeable about the market, says Fulton. Ask that “expert” if he would be willing to mentor your teen and touch base semi-regularly about her strategy.

2. Encourage your teen to invest in one or two companies or mutual funds. She should research potential investments online—your brokerage firm may even offer free tools.

Online Resources

schwabmoneywise.com: Topics include saving, credit cards and investing, plus definitions of terms such as stocks, bonds and exchange-traded funds.

oneshare.com: Purchase one share of a company for your kid and he’ll receive a framed stock certificate and starter kit.

orangekids.com: Planet Orange, ING Direct’s interactive, space-themed game, teaches kids in grades one through six how to earn, spend, save and invest.

weseed.com: Kids can create virtual stock portfolios and track the real market’s returns.

investopedia.com: From market basics to sophisticated strategies used by day traders, this comprehensive site offers tutorials, definitions and news.

Have you taught your kids to invest? Tell us how in the comments below.

Financial expert Stacey L. Bradford is an award-winning journalist and author. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy teaching her kids the value of a dollar.

Our Prom Mom Makes a Parenting Facebook Faux Pas

Written on April 18, 2012 at 10:05 am , by

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

The two mail order dresses arrived! I have to admit, one of them was just stunning and at a great price. But M felt it was too fancy, too serious and maybe even too “mature.” Given the department store’s wonderful policy of free shipping and free returns, we may hold on to that one for a while, as a back-up, or even to use as a formal dress to wear in college. I think it’s good to have a few wardrobe options.

Unfortunately, I’m out of the dress shopping job this week while I’m out of town on business. M is going to have to go with a friend to yet another dress boutique in LA. Who knows? Maybe she will get lucky or feel less pressure without me. If not, you may recall we have a college trip coming and that still gives us a chance to shop in New York. (Someone should warn Macy’s Herald Square!)

So let’s stop to discuss another aspect of all this prom prep: the online world.

I committed a parenting social media faux pas and I need to share it with you. When my first blog entry went up on Momster, I linked to it on my Facebook page.  I allowed the accompanying photo to appear on my Facebook newsfeed. And then, (horrors!) I tagged M in the post! That meant all her friends suddenly saw the item, with the link to Momster and the photo of the dress. Including the dress that isn’t her  actual DRESS, if you know what I mean.

OMG! The drama that ensued! First, M was annoyed that her boyfriend saw the image and “MOM! He isn’t supposed to see the dress!!” Huh? I thought that was a wedding rule, not a prom rule. And then, the comments from her friends began, because they assumed she’d selected that red dress as the one. While all of them said they loved it, M felt compelled to post and re-post her statement that “THIS isn’t my prom dress! It’s just one we tried on!” So, the key lesson I learned is to avoid tagging her in my prom blogging, at least for the time being.

And I learned a neat trick our kids are using to keep their fashion faux pas to a minimum on the big night. As each girl selects her final dress choice, she uploads an image to a Facebook page (a RESTRICTED Facebook page for just the girls) to make sure no one gets the identical dress. That is brilliant! At my prom, there were three girls wearing the same ivory lace Gunny Sack dress and I was one of them. All night long, we each staked out our section of the dance floor and tried to stay out of photos with each other. It was a little upsetting (though very funny now). It’s quite a relief that with this wise use of technology, that’s one issue our kids can avoid. (Although I must admit, now I wish we had taken a photo of the three of us in our matching outfits.)

Ask your teens how they are deciding what to wear for the big night. Will your daughter’s dress match her date’s outfit? Do they have a group planning page? What about corsages or flowers (and do they still do that?) Will there be dinner before or dinner after? Group photos at one house? After-parties?  Do you have a curfew for your teen and will you lift it for prom night? Get those conversations going now and while you’re at it, maybe you and your teen should set some ground rules for each other about how to use social media wisely. Just as they may want you to limit any mentions of prom stuff in your own Facebook or other social networks, you should ask them to be smart about it too. Talk about making sure their social network activity is thoughtful and considerate of others. Not everyone has determined their prom plan yet and may be upset by seeing what your teen is posting. And as we move towards the big night, that intensity will increase. Discuss how to post images, videos and comments while respecting privacy and feelings.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog atwww.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

Shopping for a Prom Dress: The Odyssey Begins

Written on April 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm , by

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

My nearly 18 year old daughter (I’ll call her “M”) is a high school senior and beginning to plan for the penultimate ritual of finishing high school: the prom. So apparently, that makes me a “prom mom”! And I’m feeling such a bittersweet rush of emotions about this. I suppose that’s normal. Unbidden, fog-laden memories of my own prom come whispering. The dress I selected, after hours spent in the over-lit dressing rooms of now-long-since-gone Los Angeles department stores like Robinson’s, Orbach’s and Bonwit-Teller. Scandia, the glamorous restaurant my prom party went to, is also no longer around.

You may be interested or even shocked to know that my daughter’s high school doesn’t actually allow or sanction the prom. My daughter’s school is a religious one and doesn’t approve of dances. As a result, this is the “MORP” (prom spelled backwards) and is put on by the students themselves, with parents as adult chaperones. The principal is fairly modern and hesitant to speak too harshly against the evening so he limits his concerns to the possibility of foolish and dangerous behavior like underage drinking and the unnecessary expenses for the families of his students. And the principal’s concerns are not unfounded; some of the parents I’ve spoken with are opposed to the prom because it can be so expensive. I’m much more sentimental and am looking forward to the affair even if we have to monitor the spending to not go overboard. I have every expectation that my daughter and her friends will simply have a good time in one last lovely party before they all scatter to colleges, gap year programs and other endeavors near and far.

My daughter’s class is very small and extremely close-knit and she has been dating a boy from another school for several months now. I’m happy for her that the prom will be a celebration of these long friendships and that she will get to go with someone she’s close to. The June event is still several months away but preparing for prom is a journey, a process, and there’s actually a lot to do to help her plan this wonderful evening.

So where are we in all this? M is still at square one, finding the perfect dress. Have you ever met a teen who said “yes” to the first prom dress they saw? If so, she’s not my daughter. So far, M’s been to malls near and far with her friends, looked online and in magazines, hoping to find that ideal combination of glamour and comfort in a dress that flatters her figure, hides her (perceived) flaws and comes in a price tag we can afford. She’s been emailing me links to websites, photos of her in store dressing rooms and showed me clippings of gowns. But so far, she hasn’t allowed me to go shopping with her. I know why. It’s because, as a busy working mom, I tend to make decisions quickly. I get impatient with shopping and after a few hours, my feet hurt. (Just reading that in print makes me feel old.)

Today, that changes. M has asked me to take a long lunch and go with her to a mall nearby for some dress shopping. And if that proves unfruitful, we have a trip back East in a week to look at some of her colleges. Maybe, during some of our downtime we can visit a few stores together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover a little boutique in SoHo or a shop in Philadelphia with that unique, perfect, not-too-expensive dress? And to have that experience together? Not only because it will be such a pleasure to help her find this dream dress, but also because the chance to spend time with her is fleeting. She’s so busy, so consumed with decisions about college or perhaps a gap year program, with AP tests and softball practice, with community service hours and socializing, I’m grateful for our family dinners so at least we see her from time to time.

But if I let you in on a secret, the best part so far of being a prom mom is finding out that my big girl, my nearly-old-enough-to-vote daughter still wants my advice and maybe even my approval. M is concerned about spending too much on a dress she knows she’ll only wear once. She’s really so mature and so considerate, it’s one of those “you’re making me proud” moments that can sneak up on you.  And that make you feel like you’re doing something right after all.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog at www.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

The Art of Autism: How Painting Changed an Autistic Teen’s Life

Written on April 9, 2012 at 10:19 am , by

Guest blogger Debra Hosseini, author of The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions, on how painting changed her autistic son’s life.

“I don’t think Kevin belongs here,” Ellen, the preschool director, gently says. “He doesn’t play well with other kids. He knocks over their toys and doesn’t engage.”

I blink hard; tears well up in my eyes. My heart sinks as I watch Kevin, a solitary child in a room full of children, lining up the toy trains.

Looking around the happy parent-participation schoolroom I say sadly, “But I like it here.”

“Kevin needs more structure than we offer; the County has a program for children like Kevin.”

For the next three years a little orange bus arrives at our house each school day. Kevin is barely tall enough to see out the bus windows as it bumps along for the twenty-mile trip to his school.

At first I think, He can’t have autism. He loves to be hugged and cuddled. I tell the neurologist this.

“He’ll need care for the rest of his life. You better start planning,” his comment makes my blood turn to ice. That’s when the recurring dreams of Kevin being lost begin.

I meet with Dr.’s Bob and Lynn Koegel at the UCSB Koegel Center for Autism. Therapy begins. Kevin must learn to use his words. We must not give in to him when he screams.

Our house becomes a revolving door of therapists.

Five years later, Kevin’s therapist, Colin, brings art supplies for their session.

Kevin demands, “Draw me a picture.”

“No, you draw me one,” Colin answers.

Thus began Kevin’s and my journey into art.

“Lots of texture,” Kevin exclaims gleefully, smearing the canvas with heavy paint. He loves to mix the colors and feel the brush drag across the canvas. It fulfills a sensory need in him. Soon our house is filled with bright-colored paintings.

Within a year, I need to find places to house all of his art.

I arrange for Kevin and a few other artists to show their work at a charity benefit. My new vocation is born: securing art venues for differently-abled artists.

Now, Kevin is a junior in high school. Last year his art was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in the Ukraine. We flew to Canada for Kevin to receive an international award (from ANCA – Naturally Autistic) for the category “Visual Artist 18 and Under.”

I’m now an author and promoter of talented individuals on the spectrum. My latest book, The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions (April 2012), includes 77 artists and poets, as well as stories of the power of families, love and determination. I hope the readers of the book will be inspired by each artist’s journey.

I’m inspired every day by the art and poetry that fills my inbox. I continue to find venues for artists to be seen and heard.

“Let’s dance,” Kevin’s classmate Ben says to Kevin at the Valentine’s Day party.

I take their picture holding hands as they walk to the dance floor. For the first time, Kevin is making friends.

My reoccurring dream of Kevin being lost has stopped.

Debra Hosseini, is the parent of 3 children. Her youngest, Kevin, is on the autism spectrum. She is the author of The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions. In 2011, she co-founded with autism mom Keri Bowers, The Art of Autism collaborative. For more information visit www.the-art-of-autism.com. Kevin’s website is www.kevingallery.com.

See all our autism posts here.

Saying “No” to Your Kids’ Material Demands

Written on April 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm , by

 

By Stacey L. Bradford

Recently my daughter begged me for an American Girl doll. Fortunately, a simple no was all it took to end the discussion. But I realize in a few years it won’t be so easy to deny her, particularly when the new toy or gadget is something all her friends have. What’s funny is that I always thought if I gave her enough love she’d never compare herself to other people. Boy was I naive.

In fact, kids are neurologically hardwired to crave the same stuff as their peers. “As tweens approach middle school, they passionately seek acceptance from friends,” says Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a B-Minus. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that one way to fit in is to dress like everyone else. “That explains their ‘need’ for the right stuff,” Mogel says.

While I don’t want to impact my daughter’s social life—and I cringe at the thought of consumerism playing a role—I do hope to safeguard her from irresponsible spending decisions using this approach.

1. Define Your Values: Parents should outline their family’s values with their kids, says Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., author of When Your Teenager Becomes the Stranger in Your House. Draft a mission statement and try to live by its principles. Jantz’s family’s statement, for example, includes having a strong work ethic. So when his boys requested a Nintendo DS system, he reminded them of their family’s commitment to hard work and asked how they -intended to earn it. “Simply telling teens they can’t have something doesn’t work,” Jantz says. “You’re dealing with constant comparisons to their friends.”

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those friends’ parents may believe in a different set of principles than you do. In other words, they give their kids just about anything. The best way to counteract that is to refrain from criticizing them in front of your kid, says Jantz. Instead, explain that every family has its own rules and you are doing what you think is best.

2. Set Limits: It’s also necessary to create and enforce financial limits, says Mogel. This teaches kids that there are restrictions on how much your family can afford. Implement a spending cap of, say, $200 for a back-to-school wardrobe and ask your teen for input on how she would like to allocate it. And under no circumstances should you apologize for setting a budget.

3. Empower Through Earning: There will be times when your kids’ desires exceed their limits, or when they’ll want something you cannot afford. As long as the product doesn’t go against your values, help your kid come up with a plan to purchase it. For example, if your son wants a reasonably priced digital camera, assign him some extra projects around the house. By earning small amounts of money over time, he can save up to buy the camera himself—and he’ll probably appreciate it more if he’s forking over his own cash.

4. Retain Veto Power: Remember that you always have the right to say no, whether or not your family can afford something. You don’t have to justify your decision to not let your 13-year-old get an iPad—even if he saved up for it. Your job during these years is to send your kids off to college prepared to make smart, sensible spending choices on their own.

What have you refused to buy your kid? Share in the comments below.

Financial expert Stacey L. Bradford is an award-winning journalist and author. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy teaching her kids the value of a dollar.

April is Autism Awareness Month

Written on April 2, 2012 at 2:50 pm , by

And today is World Autism Awareness Day. If your child or someone you know is on the spectrum, check out these resources:

AutismSpeaks.org
Funds research, increases awareness and advocates for people with autism and their families.

AutismSafety.org
Addresses bullying, mistreatment and suicide prevention.

MyAutismTeam.com
A social network connecting parents of kids with autism with 30,000 autism-friendly service providers.

TheMiracleProject.org
Enables kids with special needs to express themselves through music, dance, acting and writing.

IANproject.org
Links researchers with the autism community and encourages parents to get involved in scientific progress.

Plus, hear from real moms who fought for their autistic kids and taught them to be independent adults:

“How I Fought for My Autistic Son,” by Joanne Corless

“Letting Go: How I Taught My Autistic Son to Be Independent,” by Glen Finland

All month long, we’ll be posting more dispatches from the ASD community. Find them all here.

Share your experiences with autism, or raising an autistic child, in the comments below.

Heather Eng is web editor of FamilyCircle.com.

Yes to ‘Bully,’ No to Bullies

Written on March 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm , by

Guest blogger Shawn Marie Edgington on the new documentary Bully.

There’s nothing more urgent in today’s schools than bullying, and there’s a must-see documentary premiering in select theaters on March 30th that powerfully speaks to the growing epidemic titled BullyBully tells the gut-wrenching stories of several children who were victimized by classmates in such a relatable way, that you will find yourself wanting to reach out from your seat to help them. Chances are that the only way your child will get to see Bully is if you or another adult takes them because of the R rating the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) gave the film.  Unfortunately, the rating has handcuffed the film from being seen in schools due to a very small amount of language in the film.

I was asked to screen Bully earlier this month so I could support the cause of reversing the R rating to PG-13. I invited teens, parents and an officer of Formspring to attend the screening with me, so I could get a strong sense for the film’s content from three different perspectives. I must admit, I went into the film thinking I was going to keep track of the number of “F” bombs that were dropped. I was wrong in a very big way. Twenty-five minutes into the film, I found myself searching for the reason for the film’s R rating. When it was over, all we could do was shake our heads as to what a disservice the MPAA did to such an important issue and film. I’m a conservative parent of teens, an anti-bullying advocate, a bestselling author and a mother who’s experienced both bullying and cyberbullying first-hand. I’m also a firm believer that every parent, educator, administrator and teenager needs to see this film, which brings me to the larger problem.

Many parents and educators think that bullying is a tired social problem that won’t go away and is part of growing up. Even worse, many adults don’t take cyberbullying seriously, and have yet to take the time it takes to understand the long-lasting damage it can cause.

This thought process has got to change, and here’s why:

Cyberbullying can be more damaging than face-to-face verbal harassment, because targets have no refuge. They are assaulted even in the privacy of their own homes. Damaging messages come 24/7 and rumors spread quickly. Since harassers don’t see their target’s reactions, they tend to become even crueler than they would be face-to-face.

Consequences have both short-term and long-term impacts, especially for the target. They often feel isolated, scared, helpless, humiliated and have a hard time trusting anyone, which is exactly why a supportive parent or trusted adult who will stand up for the wrong-doing is a must.

What can you do? You can’t stop the bullies or change their minds, but you can control their access to your children and how you handle a bullying situation in your home. Educate yourself about the problem of bullying and cyberbullying, its causes and consequences. Develop strategies with your child to avoid social problems related to online communication and assess your child’s behavior, on and off campus. Help your child take these important steps:

Block the bullies. You can do this on Facebook through settings, and you can block incoming text messages by calling your service provider. Check out Facebook’s Family Safety Center for more useful tools and resources.

 

Don’t read comments. Some messages and posts are going to get through to your children, either on their phone or Facebook page or from someone else’s. Help your child understand the power of deleting all messages before they read them.  Bullies don’t win their game if their messages aren’t read.

 

Ignore comments that are read or talked about. This is hard to do. Your child wants to defend themself, but the truth is that bullies want them to fight back so they can continue to tear them down.  If your child can find the strength to ignore what the messages say, the bullies will have no way to continue to harass them.

 

Report threats. If your child receives a message that threatens their safety, contains vulgar language directed towards them, or just makes them uncomfortable, they need to know that they can tell you or a teacher, and that they will receive ongoing support. If someone feels like their life or personal belongings like their house or car are being threatened, they should immediately report the threat to the police.  Most states have enacted laws to protect children from cyberbullies.

Give your child a voice. Let them use the art of filmmaking to write and direct their own anti-bullying 2-5 minute film. The Great American NO BULL Challenge is the largest, youth-led national campaign in America that combats cyberbullying at the youth level. Online toolkits about “all things cyberbullying” are available on the campaign site. The annual campaign uses the power of social media to inspire 25 million middle and high school students to promote awareness, courage and equality using social media and filmmaking.

And most importantly, take a few hours out of your busy schedule to see the film Bully. Take as many teens to the film as you can, and advocate for your schools to screen the film–it’s that important and that good! Every middle and high school child needs to see Bully, and you can help make it happen. I can’t help but contemplate that maybe the MPAA had the bigger “picture” in mind when they gave bully its unearned R rating…just maybe it was their brilliant goal to get parents to accompany their children to see the film too? The fact is that today’s teens are very aware of what’s happening to bullied victims every day–it’s the parents and educators who are in the dark and behind the times.

Producer Harvey Weinstein is now releasing the film without a rating, which could further limit who sees the film.  Theater owners have the decision to run a film without a rating, which are typically treated as if they have an NC-17 rating, meaning nobody under 17 can see it.

Share your thoughts about bullying and the MPAA’s rating of Bully in the comments below. Read our other posts about Bully.

Shawn Marie Edgington is founder of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and bestselling author of the Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media.