parenting teens and tweens

“I’m a 13-Year Old Girl. Everyone Harasses Me About My Chest Size”

Written on June 13, 2012 at 11:55 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Q. I am a 13-year-old girl in a difficult situation. I know boys are obsessed with breasts. But even my girlfriends harass me about my chest size and spread rumors that I stuff my bra. Why do kids do this if they know it hurts so much?

A. Unfortunately, you’re on the receiving end of everyone else’s body-image insecurities. For the boys you represent sexuality, and they’re confused and terrified of the power you have over them. As for the girls, our culture says they need big breasts to be beautiful, so they’re probably comparing themselves to you and resenting the attention you’re getting—even if you don’t like it. You must ask your friends to be your allies. Say, “I need you to believe me that comments about my chest make me feel really self-conscious. Please back me up when people say mean things to me.” To the boys say, “Look at my eyes when you’re talking to me. Yes, I have breasts. All women do. Deal with it.”

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Raising Independent Kids: Would You Let Your Teens Attend Pro Ball Games By Themselves?

Written on June 13, 2012 at 10:08 am , by

 

Tonight I’m letting my son Nick and his best friend, Max, go to a Yankees game by themselves for the first time. This involves an hour-long train ride from our hometown to the Yankee Stadium stop in the Bronx; then they’ll have to walk about eight blocks to the actual stadium, find their way to their seats, buy themselves dinner and, most important, keep in touch with my husband and me so we can find them in the massive crowd when we come to pick them up (we aren’t quite ready to let them navigate the late-night commute home). In all, they’ll be on their own for about six hours—though, of course, among 50,000+ other fans they won’t technically be alone. I’m nervous, but I know that as smart, sensible, newly minted 14-year-olds Nick and Max need to begin experiencing independence. In fact, Nick got the idea to go to the game sans parents from Executive Editor Darcy Jacobs’ son Matthew. Here’s her story:

When my 13-year-old recently had no school on a weekday, he asked if he could go to a Mets game. I just thought he was being typically obtuse (and sports crazed).

“Dad and I have work.”

“I meant by myself.”

“You don’t have a ticket. Plus, how will you get there?”

“I’ll buy one at the box office. And I’ll take the subway—I’ve done it enough times with you.”

My husband and I looked at each other, finding no other reason why not except our own parental hesitation. His calm and confidence were too convincing to argue against. He was ready, so we had to be too. The next day we walked him through all our rules—text when you get the ticket, text when you’re at the seat, text when you’re heading back to the subway. And be aware. And keep your phone out of sight on the subway. And stay away from anyone drinking. Basically I reminded him of everything except to look both ways before crossing. The texts arrived on schedule: Got tix. At seat. Having fun. Nice pple. Heding home.

He returned unusually chatty and elated, eager to share his adventure: He was shocked by the food prices because he actually paid attention to them, and self-upgraded his seat. While the day was not totally perfect—the Mets lost—it was a true success. For him, the momentousness of the day will fade, just one of the many steps he will start taking alone. For us, though, it was a milestone equal to a first word. He has begun his trek toward adulthood.

I hope Nick and Max get as much out of their solo adventure as Matthew did—that will give me more confidence to okay future unsupervised outings. Wondering if your child is ready to handle a bit more freedom? Read “Benefits of Free-Range Parenting,” from our July issue, for more anecdotes and expert advice.

Have you had a similar experience with your kid? Please share in the comments below.

Linda Fears is editor in chief of Family Circle magazine.

What Your Kids Aren’t Telling You About Being Bullied

Written on June 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm , by

 

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

One of the scariest realities of parenting is this: If your kids experience bullying or any kind of abuse, the worse it is, the less likely they are going to tell you about it. Even if they do, they’ll describe their experiences in such general terms that it can be hard for any well-meaning parent to read between the lines and respond effectively. This email I received from a 13-year-old girl illustrates the point.

At my school, I encountered many mean boys in my class but one, named Derek, was the worst (and not coincidentally, the most popular). He sexually harassed me every day and even though I told him to stop, he never did. He made coming to school so miserable that I hated going. I have talked to my mom but I never really said how awful he was, just that he teased me. She told me he wasn’t worth my time and that boys are just like this at this age. Should I just forget about it? Tell other people? I feel like what he did has hurt my self-esteem and made me have all this built-up anger inside.

Like many parents, Olivia’s mom responded in generalities when she heard that a boy was teasing her daughter. As I’ve said before, telling a child “He’s not worth your time” or “Ignore it” is ineffective because she’s already been trying to ignore it. And telling your daughter “That’s just the way boys are at this age” is basically another way of saying boys will be boys and you just have to accept it. But if Olivia’s mom had had a clearer picture of what was actually going on, her reaction probably would have been different.

This is what Olivia wrote when I asked her to tell me specifically what Derek was doing to her.

Dear Rosalind, I came up with a list of things that he did during the semester:

Blocked my path and wouldn’t let me leave

Blew in my ear

Pushed me over or into other male students

Snapped my bra

Said stuff like “How did that feel?” and “Betcha liked that, huh?” and “What would you do if I grabbed your butt?”

Tripped me

Made explicit gestures to me in class

If I was bending over to pick something up, he would get right up against me

Dared another boy to feel me up but he didn’t do it

Laughed about the things he did on Facebook

Kept telling people that I “made out with 5 guys,” which isn’t true

Said that I was a slut for “dressing inappropriately” (which is also not true—I have strict parents who would never let that happen)

Slapped my butt in the hallway and then said, “It was someone else! You’re just blaming me because you wish I would do that to you. Pervert.”

Made comments that my chest was too small to his friends and then when I said, “Excuse me?” he would accuse me of eavesdropping

Rub up against me

Wrote notes like “suck my nuts” on my binder or on a piece of paper at my desk

If I ever complained about it, I was a “whiny complainer” who was easily offended.

Are you wondering where Olivia’s teachers were? Here’s an example of how complicated “catching” the bully can be.

When the teachers saw him talking to me they would ask why we were talking but I would lie for him because 9/10 of my teachers are 50-year-old males and that’s embarrassing.

I asked Olivia to tell you how she thinks a parent should respond.

Take the time to listen to your daughter without interrupting with your comments right away. Then, after your daughter is done talking, ask her what she thinks is the best way to handle the situation.

I have an additional suggestion. Remember that what you initially hear is only the beginning. Your child could easily be embarrassed or ashamed to tell you the specifics. She also may keep things general to gauge your reaction. (Are you going to freak out? Listen to her? Ask a million questions?) So the first thing to say is “I’m so sorry. Do you feel comfortable telling me a few specifics of what he’s saying or doing? If you don’t feel comfortable telling me, you can write it down and give it to me later.”

Once you get a better picture of what’s occurring, you can respond to your child in a way that fits the situation and help her when she so desperately needs you.

If your child, or someone you know is in a situation similar to Olivia’s read more about how to deal with bullying here.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

“How Should My Daughter Deal with a Frenemy?”

Written on June 6, 2012 at 11:42 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Q. My daughter Amy is a fifth-grader and is relatively new to her school. Her friend Devyn has known another girl, Jen, since kindergarten. Jen seems to be jealous of Amy’s blossoming friendship with Devyn.We’ve had Jen over and she’s polite at our house, but in group settings she ignores Amy, teases her and makes faces.

A. Amy’s problem is a “friend” who is conditionally nice—the condition being they have to be alone. When they’re in a group, Jen acts mean to make herself seem more confident and powerful. Amy probably thinks things will get better if she’s kind to Jen or ignores the problem. But neither will work; she’ll only look weak. Here are her real choices: She can stop being friends with Jen all together or only hang out when they’re by themselves. Or she can work up the courage to tell Jen how she feels by saying, “I don’t want a conditional friendship. I want someone I can depend on.” Ultimately it’s up to your daughter to decide how to proceed. And it’s okay if she starts out in one direction and changes her mind. The important thing is for her to know she deserves to have friends who treat her the same no matter who’s around.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

“My 15-Year-Old Son Has No Friends!”

Written on May 30, 2012 at 11:39 am , by

 

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Q. My son is 15 and has no friends. He’s very shy and has become depressed and frustrated by his failure to be accepted. He stays home and spends all his time on the computer. I sent him to counseling but he said it was a waste of time. Please help—it is breaking my heart that his childhood is so unhappy!

A. Your son isn’t just depressed.You’re describing a kid who has extreme social anxiety and needs help. He must learn to express himself and develop social skills through a therapist who has been trained in working with boys. Try to get him into counseling again using a different approach. Say, “I realize I made a mistake about how we chose a counselor last time and I’m sorry. Let’s try again. I’d like to find five candidates you can interview beforehand. Perhaps you can setup a Skype chat.” If your son says he can’t think of any questions, suggest, “Have you worked with guys my age before?” and “Do you expect me to do most of the talking or do you give opinions?” Then remind your son that there’s no commitment—he can take it one step at a time.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

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.”

How to Avoid the Bait When Your Kid Picks a Fight with You

Written on May 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm , by

 

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Elijah, my 11-year-old son, woke up this morning determined to pick a fight with me. I know I should have been more mature, but I totally fell into his trap. In my defense, it was a challenging situation. I’d just walked by the dryer and realized that he had put a pair of dirty underwear and socks inside to “clean” them.

So I may have said something like this: “Did you really put your dirty underwear and socks in the dryer without washing them first?” I also probably rolled my eyes as I was talking.

Elijah, of course, rolled his eyes in response (don’t know where he got that from) and declared, “Mooooom, I don’t have any clean clothes. I’ve looked evvverrrywhere.”

“Elijah, do you see the two laundry baskets at your feet?”

He glanced down and instantly came back with a classic defense: “But none of those clothes fit!”

From there our conversation deteriorated into a full-blown fight about his refusal to wear anything but gym clothes to school, while the problem of no clean underwear wasn’t being solved and it was 7:25. That meant he had 20 minutes to eat breakfast, feed the dog and sit on the couch reading a book while one or both of his parents yelled at him to get himself together.

I was really irritated.

Let me explain myself. I don’t expect either of my sons to wear uncomfortable clothes like a suit and tie to school—which Elijah accused me of when we argued. I don’t like wearing tight, scratchy clothes either. I only buy soft clothes for my sons that they approve of first because I don’t want to spend money on clothes they aren’t going to wear. So I have very limited patience when my son is moaning about how horrible it is to wear soft linen pants and collared cotton shirts.

This also isn’t a personal style thing where I’m forcing him to look a particular way. If he wanted to wear black skinny jeans with a weird geometric patterned shirt, I’d be totally fine with that. If he wanted to gel his hair so it stuck out, that’d be fine too.

But in the midst of my annoyance I had a parenting epiphany that immediately turned the tables on him.

“You know, Elijah, I really want to continue this argument but we can’t do it now. So let’s schedule this fight for later today when you get back from school, and we’ll have all the time we need. How about I meet you back here around 8 p.m. after dinner? Then you can show me how wrong I am, how horrible your clothes are and how none of them fit you.” I handed him some clean underwear from the laundry basket at his feet and went downstairs.

Scheduling the argument for later worked wonderfully. As promised, I walked into his room around eight that night and said, “You ready to continue our disagreement? Because now we have the time to fully resolve this issue.”

“Yes! Because I’m so right.”

“You’re going to have to prove that to me, because I spent a lot of money on those clothes and you agreed to them.”

“But that was only to wear once for that wedding in July we had to go!”

“The agreement for our argument was that you had to prove it to me. Put the clothes on.”

The clothes fit beautifully and they were comfortable. Even he had to admit it—not by actually saying so out loud, of course, but just the opposite. He didn’t say a word. Now my challenge was to not leap up in a victory dance, saying, “I told you so” or “You look so handsome in these clothes!”

All I said was “Thanks for trying them on.”

This is what I’m taking away from my experience: Don’t let your children put you in a bad mood, especially at the beginning of the day when you don’t have the time.  If you catch yourself, solve the immediate problem and then schedule a time in the near future to discuss the overall problem.

Don’t wonder if your child is blind because he can’t see things right in front of his face. He can’t. Unless he really needs them to go out with his friends or play a video game.

And in a situation where you’re shown to be correct, don’t rub it in. The clean clothes are the reward.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

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.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Cheating

Written on May 2, 2012 at 11:33 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

For the last year I’ve been working with NBC‘s Dateline on their “My Child Would Never Do That” series. We started with an episode on what your child would do if she was a bystander to bullying. The series has continued with topics like drunk driving and stranger danger.

For some of these episodes I’ve facilitated conversations between parents and kids to show how parents can guide their children through these tough topics. One of the most important insights I’ve taken away from doing this series is that

Last Sunday, the topic was kids and cheating. To help parents, I’ve come up with some tips.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Cheating

Teaching our children honesty and why not to cheat can be more complicated than it seems. Why? Because we live in a world of mixed messages where the external rewards of winning often seem to outweigh the internal rewards of achieving honestly. From reality show characters who boast, “I didn’t come here to make friends” as a way to justify undermining and deceiving competitors to athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs, our children often see adults acting out the opposite of what many parents want to teach their children.

Use the bad role models in the media as examples. When you see someone in the news who has cheated or been dishonest, ask your kids why they think their behavior is against your family values.

It’s not enough to tell your children to be honest or do the right thing. Talk to them about specific situations in which being honest will be hard—like seeing the questions before a test—and about what you expect them to do. Admit that it doesn’t always feel good to be honest.

If your child is caught cheating, here’s what you can do:

Dig deep. Sometimes children cheat because they feel tremendous pressure to get the high grade or win the game. You need to find out why it was so important to your child to achieve his goal that he was willing to do so dishonestly.

Remind him that the faster he admits what he’s done, the less anxious he’ll feel, and the less trouble he’ll probably get into.

Don’t let your anxiety rationalize getting your kid out of trouble. It’s easy to become too worried about the long-term impact of having something on a student’s permanent record, but if you truly want to raise a child with integrity and self-confidence he has to see that you (1) will hold him accountable when it matters and (2) believe he has the strength of character to get through the process.

Express disappointment, but see this as the learning opportunity it is. Your kid may get really angry at you for holding him accountable, and that’s okay.

Remember that most of us develop integrity through a process of being tested and having adults we respect guide us along the way.

And be sure to watch the last episode about racial discrimination. It airs Sunday May 6 at 7 p.m. EST. It’s guaranteed to be a great discussion starter with your kids. I know I’ll be watching and talking about it with mine.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

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.