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Letting Go: How I Taught My Autistic Son to Be Independent

Written on March 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm , by

 

Guest blogger Glen Finland, author of Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, about preparing her autistic son for independence, shares part of her story here.

Skip the dolphin therapy. Hold the herbal supplements. We have found the cure. After all the expensive evaluations, therapies, and independent living programs for our autistic adult son, the best investment we ever made turns out to be his Metro farecard. For $1.35, David has bought himself a ticket to freedom—his own set of wheels.

In the summer of 2008 my son David and I spent weeks riding the Washington, DC, subway trains, not going anywhere, just, you know, riding from stop to stop. So it goes, when your handsome twenty-one-year-old is a rangy six-footer with a sexy five o’clock shadow and the mind of a good-natured adolescent. Pervasive developmental delays cause their own set of problems, and David’s is a kind of exuberance that reveals itself by his swinging an imaginary baseball bat whenever he’s really happy. Feet squared, wrists piled up high on his right shoulder, and swoosh! The impulse reflects an open innocence that’s way too friendly when it comes to strangers. At Eighth and F, Northwest, when a homeless man asks him for change, David pulls out his wallet and says, “OK, how much?”

But if he could learn to ride the Metro, my husband and I believed, then he could travel to a job site; and when he locked down that job, he could pay his rent. With a job and an apartment, he would have a real life. And who knows? Maybe even find somebody other than his dad and me to love him well into the future. It was a goal we could all agree on. David swung his imaginary bat whenever we talked about it.

So at the end of the summer David and I got cozy with all the different Metro routes. We visited the Zoo and met the guy who scrubs the elephants’ backs. We surfaced in Chinatown, where David walked around with a starry-eyed look on his face because of “the pretty Korean girls.” One morning, we hopped off at the Smithsonian for him to run to the Lincoln Memorial while I waited on a bench in a light downpour. Ever since he was a child, he could run like a deer, and in high school he had run cross-country. Another day, we raced up the escalators toward the wrong train and ended up lost, then doubled back and rode home the long way. We didn’t have anywhere we had to be that afternoon. No worries.

It stayed that way until the August evening when David told me he was ready to go it alone. We both knew this was coming; it was, in fact, exactly what we’d been working toward. I just hadn’t realized he’d be ready sooner than I was.

This first taste of autonomy was a reprieve from the nonstop commands that filled his days. Directions from me and all the teachers, counselors, and therapists who’ve always told him where to go, how to act, what to say. How numbingly tiresome it must’ve been, year after year after year, living with decisions someone else made for him.

Nowadays, everywhere he goes, he goes solo. When the train doors close behind him, he doesn’t bother to wave goodbye. It’s not rudeness, it’s just what’s missing from his Rules for Basic Living handbook. Riding the Metro, he chooses where his next stop will be, then steps out into the city a free man. Even though I no more know where he goes than the train knows where it’s taking him, David has learned to keep safe alone in the world. Another victory in my Letting Go Diary.

“I’m the boss of me now,” he says, answering all and none of my questions. But this is progress. So shut up, I tell myself, let him go.

Glen Finland is the author of Next Stop: A Memoir of Family due out March 29 from AmyEinhornBooks/Putnam. www.glenfinland.com

Read all our posts about autism here. And share your thoughts on Glen’s story, or your own experiences raising an autistic child, in the comments below.

Young Girls Are Posting “Am I Ugly?” Videos on YouTube

Written on February 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm , by

Pre-teen and teenage years have always been fraught with insecurity. But rather than seeking a confidence boost from close friends, many kids are turning to strangers on the internet. A recent article on the Huffington Post reports on a disturbing new trend: Young girls are posting videos of themselves on YouTube with a simple question–”Am I ugly or pretty?”

Responses in the comments section range from encouraging to obscene. Not surprisingly, many are concerned that the posters, who are often younger than the site’s required age (13), might not be able to handle the unabashed–and often vicious–anonymous feedback. To prevent long-lasting issues with self-image, some are calling for parents to monitor their children’s usage of the site. Pushback is also coming from teens and preteens, themselves. Some are creating and uploading videos in response to the trend, questioning its purpose.

While our lives are becoming increasingly public–Facebook profiles, YouTube pages, and personal blogs, for starters–it might seem natural to seek public affirmation to assuage our private fears. Yet, the what’s posted on the internet is permanent. So, too, can be the effects of hurtful comments, especially during the tumultuous tween and teen years.

Parents, are you concerned about this trend? Do you monitor your child’s internet use? What suggestions do you have for bolstering children’s self esteem and creating a positive body image?

–Carly Okyle, guest blogger

“How I Fought for My Autistic Son”

Written on February 28, 2012 at 9:21 am , by

 

Guest blogger Joanne Corless was featured as our Local Hero from the story “A New Lesson Plan: One Mom’s Fight for Autism Education” in our April issue. Here, she shares her experience raising a son with autism.

I have three children, two girls and one boy. Kiersten is 21 and a nursing student in college. Kylie is 11 and in 6th grade.  My son, AJ, is 22 and has autism.

AJ was diagnosed in the summer of 1991 when he was almost two years old—just a few months after Kiersten was born.  When I received the diagnosis, I came home from the doctor’s office, sat on my kitchen floor and sobbed uncontrollably. All I could think was that my beautiful baby boy would never grow up to have a “normal” life.

I knew so little about autism. My only previous experience with the condition was with a teenage boy with severe autism and leukemia that I cared for as a pediatric nurse at Memorial Sloane Kettering.  My husband and I were devastated and frightened about what AJ’s future would hold.

I hopped from one doctor to the next hoping to get answers and find a way to help AJ. But there was very little support. The incidence of autism in 1991 was low—only 1 in 10,000 children were on the spectrum. There were no early intervention programs in our area that specialized in autism and doctors gave us no hope. I leaned heavily on my faith for comfort and guidance; I asked God to give me strength to find a way to make a better life for AJ.  I knew by the way my son interacted and responded to me that I had a very smart little boy underneath the autism. We were determined to give AJ all we had and promised never to give up on him.

The first few years were difficult. AJ’s autism took over our lives.  AJ presented with classic symptoms: no eye contact, no expressive language, very little receptive language, inappropriate play, no social skills and extremely rigid and challenging behavior. I felt very lonely and isolated.

When he was three, I came across a teaching method called applied behavior analysis or ABA: Trained instructors spend hours one-on-one with an autistic child, deconstructing a task—like tooth-brushing—into tiny steps until he masters it. This therapy changed AJ’s life. In the two decades that followed, I started the AJ Foundation for Children with Autism, which brought ABA programs to local public schools, and opened The Comprehensive Learning Center, a private ABA school.

Today I look back and thank God that we were fortunate to have all the support from our family, friends and a handful of very dedicated, extremely talented behavior specialists. AJ received quality intervention based on ABA for 19 years and he has achieved far beyond our expectations. He still has autism but is a productive member of our community. He has lots of friends, participates in many activities and earns a living by working three jobs.  He has a “normal” life.

Read all our posts about autism here. And share your thoughts on Joanne’s story, or your own experiences raising an autistic child, in the comments below.

The Pros and Cons of School Fundraising

Written on January 31, 2012 at 10:14 am , by

 

Guest blogger Alina Tugend on school fundraising.

As the mother of a high-schooler and middle-schooler, I’ve now gone through, oh, let’s see, about a dozen years (more if you count pre-school!) of bake sales and car-wash fundraisers and stuffing tubs of frozen cookie dough I don’t particularly want into my freezer to support our schools.

Don’t get me wrong. The public schools my two boys attend in our New York suburb are terrific and I’m happy to support them. But like every parent I know, I’m tired of being hit up for money. And it’s only getting worse. When the economy tanked a few years ago, even solid school systems like ours were hit. Suddenly emails were flying around the community begging families to help raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to keep some of our sports teams going.

While interviewing experts and parents for my article in this month’s issue of Family Circle I found myself constantly nodding in agreement. Yes, all public schools are facing a funding crisis. Yes, private money is needed. But there’s a real danger that goes along with that. Corporate donors can certainly help out, but at what cost? Our children are already slammed with so many commercial messages outside of school – do we want to bring that kind of advertising into schools as well? And how will sponsorship influence what schools buy?

Private money from parents also comes with a price. Will a family that gives big to a sports team or drama club have undue influence when it comes to their child’s spot on that team or in the school play? Won’t such fundraising inevitable exacerbate the already large gap between wealthier and less affluent school districts as richer communities can give far more than poorer ones?

And finally how much time do we want teachers and administrators, already overburdened, to devote to fundraising activities?

But fundraising won’t go away. There are ways to develop programs that do it in the best and fairest way possible. One example is set up a non-profit schools’ foundation for the entire district, so many raised is equitably distributed among the schools. Another is to do bigger but fewer fundraisers over the year, so parents don’t feel they are being hit up at every turn. And schools need to make sure they have strict guidelines in place about who they will take money from and how it will be used.

As all administrators told me, no one likes fundraising, but it’s a necessary evil. The focus in the future should be to do it the best way we can.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Alina Tugend’s book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong(Riverhead) is out in paperback this month. She also writes the biweekly ShortCuts column for the New York Times and the parenting column for Worth Magazine. Alina lives in New York with her husband and two teenage boys.

Cyberbullying Cases Not Heard by The US Supreme Court

Written on January 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm , by

Guest Blogger Shawn Edgington on Cyberbullying and the US Supreme Court

As the US Supreme Court recently decided not to hear two cases related to cyberbullying, failing to recognize the power of social networking. For now,  the problem of online harassment continues to plague America’s students.

The Supreme Court passed on hearing the appealed case from West Virginia involving a web page gone viral among students that disparaged another student by spreading rumors that she had a sexually transmitted disease.  The student from West Virginia sued her school after she was suspended for creating the page, called “S.A.S.H.” The student stated the term S.A.S.H. stood for “Students Against Sluts’ Herpes.”

In the lower courts, the students of this profile page argued that their online posts were off-limits to school authorities because they took place “off-campus.”  The original creator of the webpage was suspended by the school, and the parents sued the school district, lost, and then took the case to the Supreme Court, who passed on formally hearing the case.

The second appealed case came out of a school district in Pennsylvania that was successfully sued by two students who were suspended for slandering their principals while they were off of school campus.  One eighth-grade girl created a fake profile of her principal that included a photo, calling him a “sex addict” who enjoyed “hitting on students.” The other, a high school senior, mocked his principal as a drug user and a “big fag.”  The students were originally suspended for their actions, and they sued the school district and won.  The court stayed out of the ruling that said schools couldn’t discipline the two students because the slander took place off-campus and didn’t disrupt the education process.

As the court underestimates the power of social networking by “passing” on these two cases, cyberbullying continues to grow momentum.  For now, cyberbullying is a problem that the Supreme Court is leaving to the individual states and schools.  The National School Board Association was disappointed by the courts inactions, “We’ve missed the opportunity to really clarify for school districts what their responsibility and authority is,” said Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association. “This is one of those cases where the law is simply lagging behind the times.”

The law might be lagging but cyberbullying is growing at a rapid rate, mostly due to the influence of mobile messaging and the easy access of social media. It’s become convenient for anyone to bully more often, and with ease.

If any kind of bullying occurs while a student’s at school or on their way to or from school, then administrators can step in if the actions are negatively affecting the education process.  If bullying occurs outside of school, it’s up to the parents or students to report it.  As the law stands today, bullying must “disrupt the education process” in order for a school to have legal grounds to step in, including investigation and punishing students for cyberbullying incidents.

In the extreme cyberbullying cases that hit the media and from my personal experience, online abuse often stems from a crowd mentality; viral mayhem that is simple to achieve on any social network.  The fact is, it’s much easier to spread rumors or agree with hate-speech when you don’t have to face the target directly, which is why technology takes bullying to a whole new level. Kids have to understand that there has to be consequences for their actions, and parents need to deliver the consequences, even if their school can’t.

Are we doing enough to limit the damage that cyberbullying causes?  Are we educating all students on how to prevent or intervene on behalf of a student peer?  A study released today from the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), sponsored by Microsoft Corp., finds that schools are ill-prepared to teach students the basics of online safety, security and ethics — skills that are necessary in today’s digital world. The study claims that only 26 percent of K-12 teachers surveyed have taught kids how to handle cyberbullying, versus 15 percent who have spoken to students about hate speech online.

Teachers should help students understand that social networks are not separate from reality. A Facebook page or a Twitter account is an extension of it, and part of a child’s image and reputation, both online and in real life. It should also be made clear that everything digital is governed by a set of social rules, even though the Supreme Court decided not to clarify the grounds in which students can be punished by public schools for their off-campus digital activities.

There is one thing that I know for sure; parents need to be attentive to their child’s contacts and activities on all forms of social media, and our schools need to be proactive when it comes to cyberbullying prevention and intervention, even if for now, the high court underestimates the power of social networking.

Shawn Edgington is the Founder and President of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and the bestselling author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media:  Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World. Shawn is also the CEO of a national insurance firm in California where she lives with her family.

Teens Stand Up Against Bullying

Written on January 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm , by

Guest blogger Shawn Edgington on the NO BULL Challenge.

“Mom, I can’t go back to school, they want to kill me!” These are the words every parent fears, and hopes never to hear.  As the mother of a teenage girl who received death threats by text and on her Facebook page, I know first-hand how difficult it is when cyberbullies target your child.  I also know how critical it is for parents and educators to take the right steps before a cyberbullying situation goes viral.

It’s difficult to know when to act, because more than 80% of the time, adults don’t really know what’s happening within a child’s online world.  That said, what is a parent or an educator to do if they aren’t aware when a child really needs help?  Teens are falling witness to cyberbullying incidents every day, and in most cases, make the decision to remain silent about what they see or read.

The important questions to ask yourself are:  Does your constantly connected teen know when to take a “friend’s” dark or desperate status update as a serious cry for help?  Can your teenager recognize a potentially unhealthy or dangerous post when they see one?  The unfortunate truth is, most of the time we are left to rely on another child’s online friends to intervene by getting help on their behalf, which isn’t happening enough.  This is why every teen needs to know what to watch out for, how to stand up for their peers, when to report and who to go to for help before it’s too late.

What can parents and educators do to empower teens to stand up and help their fellow students in need?  Have them take The Great American NO BULL Challenge, the largest student-led campaign to fight bullying and cyberbullying in America. The annual campaign inspires America’s 25 million teens to learn how to eliminate bullying from their lives by creating a video with an anti-bullying message.  Students and educators are provided all of the information they need to know about making a video, cyberbullying basics, standing up, prevention, and intervention tips via the online NO BULL Cyberbullying 411 toolkits. View one of the NO BULL teen created videos submitted at: http://nobull.votigo.com/contests/showentry/1016336

The NO BULL Challenge gives teenagers the chance to compete for $25,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have their winning videos introduced to the world at the star-studded NO BULL Teen Video Awards show in San Francisco, promoted by Live Nation.  At the Teen Video Awards gala, students will watch artists perform live and meet their favorite celebrities on the red carpet. The spotlight will shine on the student-made films pertaining to NO BULL, offer students the chance to win thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, and have their video presented center stage for the world to witness.

The Great American NO BULL Challenge is a massive collaboration between iSafe, National Organizations for Youth Safety, FCCLA, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps, teenDailyStrength, 4-H, Students Against Destructive Decisions, The Anti-Defamation League, Business Professionals of America, Project Change, American School Counselor Association, The California Endowment and Health Happens Here, iKeepSafe.org, The Megan Meier Foundation, National Collaboration for Youth, The Bully Police Squad, Communities in Schools, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Formspring, among others.

Now through March 14th, students in the 6th through 12th grade can submit their video at www.nobullchallenge.org and at www.facebook.com/NOBULLChallenge.

There is one thing that I know for sure; if we can educate and inspire America’s teens on how to stand up for what is right and say “NO BULL!” to all of the online mayhem, we will be steps ahead on the war against cyberbullying.

–SHAWN EDGINGTON

Shawn Edgington is the Founder and President of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and the bestselling author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media:  Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World. Shawn is also the CEO of a national insurance firm in California where she lives with her family.

 

Tune In: The Backseat Book Club on NPR

Written on January 3, 2012 at 11:20 am , by

Since car rides can equal torture for tweens forced to be a captive radio audience, why not let them listen to a program that’s both educational and entertaining?

The Backseat Book Club, a new segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, is an interactive reading program geared towards kids ages 9 to 14, that celebrates young adult literature, and provides a welcome change of pace for those kids usually forced to listen to their parents’ radio choices. Each month, a new book will be introduced, giving kids several weeks to read it, before they participate in an on-air discussion where they can share thoughts, comments and feedback with their fellow readers and listeners. The book’s author will also join the group, providing an opportunity for kids to ask him or her any questions they might have had while reading.

Past selections have included The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. This month’s pick is The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, so any kids interested in participating in the discussion, which will take place the week of January 17 at 4 p.m. EST on NPR, should pick up a copy and start reading today. Kids can also visit npr.org for more information and to send in their questions and comments to the show via e-mail.

–Kara Giannecchini, Family Circle intern

Transgender Boy to Join Girl Scouts

Written on November 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm , by

Bobby Montoya, 7, is anatomically male, but has identified as a female since he was 2 years old. He dresses as a female and has had both a Princess birthday party and a Repunzel birthday party.

Yet when his mother took him to sign up for Girl Scouts so he could follow in his older sister’s footsteps, the local troop leader denied him admittance because he has “boy parts.”

 

The national organization heard about the local leader’s response, and it released a statement saying it would allow anyone who identifies as a girl to join. Later, Bobby’s mother was told that the troop leader would receive sensitivity classes for her behavior.

While the response from the Girl Scouts has been openly supportive and politically correct, Bobby’s mother tells ABC News that she’s still waiting for a call and an apology from someone high in the ranks.

Bobby is still deciding if he wants to officially become a Girl Scout or not.

For more news about transgendered tweens, take a look at this story about an 11 year old boy going on hormone blockers.

– CARLY OKYLE

What do you think? Is Bobby’s admittance into the Girl Scouts appropriate? Would you want an anatomically male member in your daughter’s Girl Scout troop? Let us know in the comments.

How to Make Your Child Safer on the Social Web

Written on October 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm , by

Ever wonder what the best way to keep your kids safe online is? Us too! That’s why we’re starting a 6-part series, Social Network Safety: A Parental Guide, written by a special guest blogger. Read Part 2 for strategies on how to make your child safer online and tune in for Part 3 in two weeks.

Social Network Safety guest blogger: George Garrick

Faced with the real – and potential – perils, parents want to do all they can to protect their children and help offset the digital risks that accompany social media use.

That’s why, with 50 percent of all 11-year-olds now in possession of social network accounts, nearly half of the parents who participated in our survey strongly agreed that “social network monitoring goes hand in hand with parental guidance, so when I find out something bad I can use the opportunity to explain to my children why it’s bad, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes.”

If this approach is utilized and practiced properly, by the time your child is of driving age (when you really lose control of where they go and what they do), they will be wise enough to know how to use the Internet safely.

With that educational sentiment in mind, we offer several ways parents can help their kids have a safer experience on the social Web.

In any family, the “best” approach relates to the nature and age of the child, the parenting philosophy, and the parents’ familiarity with technology. But, across the board, we believe that these practices are highly useful and productive in virtually all situations where parents are concerned about their children’s use of social networks.

  1. Have an ongoing dialogue with your kids about the online world. Be sure to make them aware of the fact that potentially everything they do or put online is accessible by millions of people globally, and that there are real downsides to their reputation and future if they act inappropriately, or if their friends post damaging pictures or content. Make sure they realize that once something is out there on the Internet, they can’t take it back.  Just ask Paris Hilton. And show them news articles about kidnappings, harassment, suicides, and worse –which originated from contacts with strangers over the Internet. Encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult about anything they see that is concerning, inappropriate, or dangerous. But be sure not to take an “I-know-and-you-do-not” attitude. Listen to your kids and establish a basis for trusted communications; tell them that you trust them and don’t want to spy on them but just want to perform your parental duty of protecting and teaching them.  And finally, make sure they realize that there are large companies who track virtually everything your child does on the Internet, including which sites they visit, and what content they read or look at.  Despite what these companies might claim, and despite laws that are designed to protect consumers, nobody, including the government, really knows which companies keep what information, and when and how it might be used in the future (or stolen by a hacker).
  2. Know who your kids’ online friends are. The average tween / teen has 100 – 200 social network “friends,” and it’s not uncommon for kids to accept friend requests from people they do not know.  Accepting new “friends” is exciting to a lot of kids, and many like to brag about how many friends they have online.  That’s why it’s important for parents to review their kids’ friends frequently, and to know their association with your child. If there’s someone you don’t recognize, ask your child who the person is, and ensure that your child “unfriends” the person if they are unknown, suspicious, or inappropriate.  A person who is “unfriended” generally does not receive any notification at all that it has happened, so there is no risk of repercussions.  Our research shows this is the single biggest concern of parents, and probably the biggest potential danger to their kids. And, since social networks do not require proof of identity, a 45-year-old convicted sex offender could pose as a football player from a high school across town. This is no different than watching who your kids hang out with after school and on weekends. You are just extending a normal parenting practice to the Internet.

– GEORGE GARRICK, CEO, SocialShield

SocialShield is an online monitoring service dedicated to helping parents keep their kids safe on Facebook and other social networks. www.socialshield.com

11-Year-Old Boy Who Identifies as a Girl Goes on Hormone Blockers

Written on October 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm , by

Puberty is a confusing time for any tween or teen, but one young boy has some additional challenges in store. Besides pressure to fit in and figure out who you are, 11-year-old Tommy, who prefers to be called Tammy, is trying to figure out which gender he identifies with.

 

The FoxNews website reports that his parents, Pauline Moreno and Debra Lobel, have consented to Tommy/Tammy taking hormone blockers to delay puberty. This way, they say, he can have more time to figure out which gender he identifies with.  He began the hormone therapy over the summer, when doctors implanted the medicine in his upper left arm. The procedure will take place once a year until he’s 14 or 15 years old.

Tommy/Tammy was diagnosed with gender identity disorder at 7, but his parents say he expressed dissatisfaction with his male form when he was 3. At the time, he was learning sign language to help with a speech impediment, and he signed “I am a girl” to his parents. They corrected the language, thinking he’d misunderstood the sign for “boy,” but he was insistent.

It’s a controversial move, to be sure. The effects of the hormone blockers are not fully known and the brain is still developing at Tommy/Tammy’s age. Some see it as parents being supportive and trying to allow the child to decide his or her identity while others see it as an unsafe, psychologically damaging decision.

What do you think, readers? Is an 11-year-old child old enough to make these decisions for himself? Are his parents being open-minded or ignoring a larger issue? Tell us in the comments below or share in our Momster Discussions.

- Carly Okyle

There’s No Place Like Home: Family Traditions Build Sense of Community

Written on October 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm , by

Sustainable Living Guest Blogger: Kate Ruffing

I am coming off the eve of an annual family tradition that I had almost forgotten could be so much fun, but which has reinforced my belief that family gatherings build a sense of self and greater community.  In these blogs, I often share sustainable solutions for what scientists classify as the necessities of life – Food, Water and Shelter.  But what makes us distinctively human is how we come together into a Community group – be it in families, cities, nations, or as a planet. Cultivating this sense of place is just as important to living a sustainable life as the others.

I know, as you do, that getting the family together can be easier imagined than done as we madly dash to all the different activities on our calendars.  I typically start to think about family around the major holidays, but would encourage all of us to remember those other life moments that we can easily turn from “a happening” into “a habit”.

One of my family’s traditions is to head into the northern Wisconsin woods every fall, to gather with family and friends for a communal hunting trip.  Now don’t fear, I am not insisting that this become your family tradition, but rather it serve as an example for why you should find a time to come together and just be.  From Boston to Seattle, we pick one long weekend in the fall to gather together and eat, laugh, swap stories, and for us, head out into the woods.

So what is your family tradition?  Here are some suggestions to get you planning but tailor it to what you like to do.  These events don’t have to be only for blood-relatives.  Bringing neighbors and close friends into the fold just expands the fun.  For those teens and tweens, have them invite a friend to feel more engaged.

Annual Trip: Pick a spot – It can be a family home, campground, resort, picnic area, beach or a rotating location.  Pick a date – Like the second weekend of October or around a school break.  Organize planned activities or just play together.

Weekly Game or Movie Night: You can almost hear the teenage eye-roll on this suggestion, but pick a night of the week to play a game or watch a movie along with some fun snacks and drinks.  Curb the cell phones and computers for one night and allow different members to pick what game you play or movie to watch.

Community Project Work: Find a project in your area where the family can help out.  From collecting trash along a road to helping out at hospitals, senior centers, food banks and shelters.  Some quick searching will find something good for your group.

Monthly Gathering: Find a weekend day that works for everyone and have a pot luck meal or visit a museum.  You can go play a sport or take a historical tour.

At the end of it all, it is about getting together and being a family.  These bonds are what  life is all about so forge them every chance you get.  And don’t worry about the eye-rolls you may get- they will thank you later.

Follow Kate Ruffing’s Sustainable Living adventures and discover solutions for your family at www.KateRuffing.com

Ask Rosalind: Can 15-year-old boys and girls be friends?

Written on October 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm , by

Smart ways to help your tweens & teens navigate the real world by Rosalind Wiseman

Q: Can a 15-year-old girl have a boy—as a friend—over to the house to play video games and just hang out, or does that lead to trouble even if the parents are home? My daughter seems to get along better with guys. I think she may be turned off by the cattiness of girls.

A: I’m guessing that “lead to trouble” refers to the possibility of your daughter engaging in sexual activity with one of her guy friends? Let’s dial it back a little. If you start by saying something like, “Honey, you don’t realize how cute you are, and boys have crazy hormones…,” she’ll refuse to admit you have a point, run to her room and slam the door. And it’s true that some girls hang out with guys for the reason you say and develop strong friendships with them. Those relationships may stay platonic. But most girls are naturally curious about sex and it makes sense for them to explore their sexuality with people who make them comfortable. Accept that your daughter may begin having sexual experiences and that’s ok—as long as you help her create personal boundaries based on self-respect and your family’s values. In any case, make it harder for her and restrict the video game playing to the family room.

Read more Ask Rosalind.

– ROSALIND WISEMAN

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book Queen Bees and Wannabes inspired the hit movie Mean Girls. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com.