5 Ways to Save Money on Back to School Shopping

Written on August 14, 2012 at 10:46 am , by


Guest blogger Cherie Lowe on teaching your kids about money while saving big on back to school shopping.

The thrill of a shopping victory comes when you see that grossly disproportionate number at the bottom of your receipt telling you just how much money you saved. You totally know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of receipt you want to show the people in front and back of you in line, as well as the greeter at the door. It’s the kind of receipt that invokes an embarrassing mom dance in the parking lot. And it’s the first thing you show your spouse when you see him next.

Don’t keep all of that giddy pride to yourself. Back to school time is the perfect opportunity for you to teach your tween how to handle money well–and possibly earn her own receipt worth showing off. You’ll need patience and you’ll have to relinquish control, but the byproduct is a money-savvy kid who learns that each penny counts. Here’s how to start:

1. Help your tween evaluate his needs before going shopping. Block off an afternoon to take inventory of what fits, what doesn’t and what he can re-use from last year. After you have a nice stack of items donate or hand down, compile a list of needs. Be sure to take stock of school supplies, in addition to clothes. Rulers, scissors, backpacks, lunch boxes and even USB drives usually have lifespans of 2-3 years.

2. Set two cash budgets: one for clothing, one for supplies. Based on what you’ve spent in the past and what your kid needs, go to the ATM and pull out EXACTLY what you plan to allow her to spend. If you let your kids shop with plastic–even debit, and yes, even if you’re present–they will always spend more.

3. Narrow your shopping venues and clip coupons. Don’t just wander the mall. You and your teen need a plan of attack. Sit down together and decide which stores you’ll hit. Then, google their names, along with the word “coupon,” to see what’s available for both clothing and supplies.

4. Steer your kids towards the clearance. Now’s not the time to buy sweaters and jeans–purchase capris, shorts and Ts, which are on sale now. Most schools start when the weather is still hot. Wait two months to shop for fall and winter clothing; by then, prices will come down substantially. If your kid desperately wants something spiffy for the first day, let her choose one fall outfit. (It can double as picture day attire, too.) But for everyday wear, urge her to choose clearance first.

5. Give them guidelines and set them free. It’s time for the little bird to fly from the nest. If you let your teens know that it’s their money to spend, they might have a different attitude than if you’re paying the bill. So if their shopping list calls for 3 pairs of pants, 2 tops and some socks, let them choose. This is extremely hard, as a parent, but it will make them realize that sometimes you have to decide between one pair of expensive jeans or two off-brand pairs. Obviously, you’ll need to help them navigate their school’s dress code–and perhaps your own household’s possibly stricter dress code. And let’s be clear: They may blow their budget and have to live with it. But you will not be sent to parent prison or turned in to Child Protective Services. And your kids will gain some valuable life learning.

How do you help your tween navigate the back to school aisles?

For more Royal Money Saving Back to School Tips, check out:

Cherie Lowe blogs at the Queen of Free, where she wears a plastic tiara and plans on never growing out of playing make believe.  Through written word and speaking engagements, she has shared the Royal Family’s Journey of Paying off $127,482.30 over the last four years.

A Backpack with a Built-In Safety Alarm

Written on August 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm , by

In the early stages of planning my back-to-school tech guide in the September issue, I received the iSafe Urban Crew laptop backpack to review. It’s a cute backpack, black with purple trim, and I have a teenage daughter who lives by that color scheme. Once it didn’t make the cut for my story (we went another direction), it disappeared quietly into the disaster she calls her room. Yesterday, the folks at iSafe Bags asked me what I  thought of it. Only then did I realize it had been pilfered. So I dug around in her mess of ignored school books, over-ear headphones, dirty dishes, odd science equipment, mistreated novels and found it.

The thing that separates this bag from the millions of backpacks on the market is its built-in alarm system. Hidden in one of the shoulder straps is a trigger for the alarm. So if Ava was wearing this backpack and someone threatening approached, she could flip up the flap and pull a pin. The backpack would then emit a deafening screech. (It’s designed so the sound is directed away from the wearer’s ears.) Ava thought this idea was silly. But she has never—thankfully—found herself alone on a city street with a stranger approaching. I liked the sound of it.

But how do you test something like this?

Just as I was wondering that my husband stopped by my office for a lunch date. The backpack was sitting in a chair. “You bought another bag for Ava?!” He asked. But there was an accusing tone in his voice. Even though this was my office, he assumed I’d gone on a shopping spree for goods we didn’t need. This irked me. So I decided to use him as a test subject. (Hell hath no fury like a woman whose shopping skills go underappreciated.)

“No,” I said pleasantly. “I got that in for review. You want to see what’s cool about it?” I asked as I put it on.

He did.

I flipped up the flap, pulled the tab, and the alarm went off.

He hit the ceiling! Literally! I have never seen a man jump that high outside of a basketball court. In fact, I think I saw his eyes bug out of his head like a character in a classic cartoon. Then he darted down the hallway—seemingly against his own will—to get away from the noise.

So. That worked.

After he calmed down and I was sure he didn’t need medical attention, I started giggling. After a while, so did he.

I’m still giggling. But I’m wearing this backpack if I ever have to hike across campus late at night.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at, as well as here on

4 Organizing Tips for Back-to-School

Written on August 10, 2012 at 11:15 am , by

By Lorie Marrero

Ready for the kids to be back on a regular schedule? New routines and classes can make for a challenging adjustment from a relaxed summer pace. Let your home support you in your transition by establishing the following four stations for commonly needed functions:

1. Get out of the door faster every morning with a “Destination Station.” Set up your Destination Station at the place where you most often enter and exit the house. Every home can utilize this concept, whether you repurpose a piece of furniture like a sideboard or bureau in a hallway, add some sturdy hooks and shelving to a wall, repurpose a coat closet, or use a dedicated mudroom. This station provides a home for all of the comings and goings of a busy family, like backpacks, purses, briefcases, and phones. Phone chargers can be helpful here, along with a shelf for errand items such as library books and store returns. Develop the habit of hanging up keys here on hooks or stowing them in a bowl. Each evening you can place everything here to be ready to leave the next morning.

2. Make homework time a happier time with an “Education Station.” This station is a place to centralize school supplies and create a space that feels comfortable and functional for working on those dreaded math worksheets. If you have a desk or table dedicated for studying, that’s ideal, but if your kids like using the kitchen table, make it easier to clear off for meals with some clever containers. A shower caddy can hold frequently used supplies like pencils, pens, calculators, and rulers, and the handle makes it easy to grab and move quickly. A rolling cart of plastic drawers can serve up supplies and get “parked” in a nearby closet when not needed. Make sure you have a pencil sharpener, erasers, paper, a surge protector strip, and good lighting.

3. Combat confusion with a “Communication Station.” Make sure you’re ready for the accelerated activities of the school year by having a place for shared information, including phone numbers, grocery lists, and schedules. A Communication Station can be as simple as a bulletin board in a high-traffic area or as formal as a built-in kitchen desk. Elements of this station may include:

  • Paper and pens for notes
  • Trays, cubbies, or bins for each family member’s mail and messages, if needed
  • Family calendar, I recommend a large paper calendar, since dry erase versions don’t allow you to refer back to the history, such as when your last dental appointment
  • Grocery list and menu plans
  • Posting space, use a corkboard, magnet board or similar display area to keep current information
  • Family Binder, this binder is like “Command Central” for the most frequently-needed information. Use a 3-ring binder for school bus schedules, medical reference information, school policies, and often needed phone numbers
  • You can also consider using a shared online calendar for these functions

4. Move it on out with a “Donation Station.” Back-to-school time means buying new school clothes and taking stock of the clothing that may have been outgrown. As a result, you might have lots of clothing to donate. Oftentimes, items for donation just end up sitting neglected in your closets. Setting up a permanent area where donations can be gathered allows you to make decisions about your stagnant stuff and get those items pulled out of circulation. Keep paper sacks, shopping bags, or cardboard boxes in a corner of a closet, on a shelf, or even in the trunk of your car to gather your donations before taking a load to your nearest Goodwill. Also, you may want to keep a clipboard with paper and a pen close by if you want to make a list of donated items for tax deduction purposes. Just as there are things we recycle, there are things we donate, it’s a planet-friendly habit that keeps billions of pounds out of landfills and helps people in your own community with training and other job-related services.




Lorie Marrero is a certified professional organizer and bestselling author of The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.


3 Fun Educational Websites for Kids

Written on August 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm , by

Did you see my story, “Tech that’s Anything But Old School” in the September issue? My husband Dan Tynan and I tried to calculate how much old school tools can be crammed into a bit of technology. It was fun. But there was so much more we could have said. Once your student has their hands on a connected device, the doors to learning just keep opening. (Of course it causes some headaches for Mom since doors to idle entertainment and gaming also open. But I think it’s worth it. Someday soon, I’ll share some of my favorite geeky tricks for managing screen time.)

As a follow-up to that story, here are a few of my favorite educational websites for kids. But since its still summer, I’ll stick to the fun ones that don’t mention homework and save the more serious study aides for September. It’s not just for looking up words. There are some fun word games here, too, that boost vocabulary and make mastering a few writing skills more play than practice. Check out Word Dynamo. I just played it and learned a new word! Cartoons that teach? This site is a great way to warm up for school. My kids have spent hours–and learned tons–watching cartoons here. This site is subscription (and so worth the $99 a year) but there is always some free stuff, too.


SciShow. Got a curious kid? Check out this YouTube channel from two smart brothers– Hank and John Greenwho tackle interesting topics, explain them hilariously, and poke fun at each other in short, informative videos. Smart and entertained? That’s how I like my kids.





Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at, as well as here on

The Crackdown on School Foods

Written on July 31, 2012 at 11:15 am , by

By Winnie Yu and Lynya Floyd

If your kid can’t buy a chocolate bar between classes, will he opt for trail mix instead? Here’s the new debate over access to snacks.

You can control what your kids eat when they’re at home, but how about when they’re at school? (And we’re not just talking about lunchbox swaps). Some experts believe removing indulgent “competitive foods” from schools—like the treats sold in vending machines, at stores and on a la carte lines—help kids make healthier eating choices. And it’s a possibility the USDA is considering as they prepare to announce new national guidelines restricting those types of items this year.

Regulators might be hoping for the kind of change seen in California, where state laws have banned the sale of sweetened beverages and limited snack foods since 2009. California teens eat 158 fewer calories a day than kids in states without these rules, according to a study in the Archives of Adolescent and Pediatric Medicine. However, some experts say access doesn’t mean excess. A recent analysis of data on 20,000 middle school students in New Jersey showed that having junk food in schools didn’t lead to weight gain.

We asked Jessica Donze Black, R.D., director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project to give us more information about what’s coming down the pipeline and why it’s important for moms to get involved.

Q. Why is the USDA regulating “competitive foods” in schools?

A. Congress directed the USDA to update the standards as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. The USDA needs to do this because in addition to the meals they eat in school, 40% of kids eat snack foods at school.

Q. Will restricting foods lead kids to eat healthier or will they just look elsewhere for indulgent snacks?

A. I think evidence shows this can work. Some of it has to do with the approach: involving kids in the practice. Letting them sample things and taste test foods. Kids will eat from the options that are available, so why not make them all healthy choices?

Q. What should parents be aware of when the recommended regulations come out?

A. We want standards to reflect the best nutrition science of day: reasonable calorie and fat caps. Reducing sodium over time. Limiting added sugars. Promoting the foods we know kids need more of such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. The most important thing parents can do is be informed. What you’re looking for is big picture. Ask yourself: “Will these changes improve the school foods available to my kid?”

Q. Why should parents write in to the USDA with their comments and questions once the new regulations are announced?

A. Because the USDA reads every comment submitted. If you have an opinion—and that’s a great thing!—they’ll read and catalog it and when they finalize the rule they’ll take it into account.

You can tell the USDA how you feel about the proposed changes (once they’re made public) by going to to post your comments and questions. Or post a comment here and let us know what you think!


Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine, and Winnie Yu is a freelance health writer.

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,, 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.

Technology That Can Help Your Kid Become a Better Student

Written on July 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm , by

I was recently listening to a fascinating panel discussion. I was deeply engrossed in it, studying some the numbers the esteemed panelists were sharing, and relaxing while sipping a cup of coffee.

This is a little unusual for me. Normally at these events, I’m busy scribbling notes (or more likely typing on a laptop) so I can recall data and sources later. A quick glance around the room, told me that scribbling notes (even though everyone sported plenty of tech) was still the norm. But as I sipped my coffee, leaned back, and listened, I was taking notes. At the beginning of the panel, I had opened the Evernote app on my phone and touched the record button. I used my phone to take a picture of the panelists, jot their names, and snap shots of any interesting slides they shared, too. But otherwise I was free to enjoy. And now that I’m home, I have better notes than I ever got from typing or scribbling.

Attending a panel is not unlike going to school. So if you have a student with a phone, tablet, or computer that connects to the Internet (maybe through the school’s Wi-Fi), why not take a minute to show her how she can use it to help her relax in class–and be a better student. She can get in the habit over the summer, figure out a system that works for her, and get a jump on the school year. If she is asking for a data phone or tablet, maybe this is a good deal to make with her before she gets one?

Start by downloading the Evernote app to her computer and whatever device she will have with her in school.

Evernote organizes all your information into notebooks and stores it online (which is why you need a Net-connected device.) So while she is in chemistry, she can simply tap the record button and set her phone on her desk or in her lap to capture every word the teacher says. If the teacher writes homework or formulas on the board, she can snap a photo of those and drop that in her Chemistry notebook. And if her phone or tablet is an Android device, she can ask Evernote to transcribe the teacher’s lecture into text.

When she’s home–or back in her dorm–she can pull all of that information up on her computer. (It syncs automatically to her account online so it’s available from any net-connected device.) So when she sits down to study she will have access to amazing notes, visual reminders of what happened in class, and her own typed notes about what it all means to her: “Due Friday!” or “Did not understand! Retake this topic at Khan Academy!”

Where was all this technology when I was in school! It’s not fair!

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at, as well as here on

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 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 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.

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 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 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.

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.