An Open Letter To Middle School Girls

The Huffington Post

Go forth and be kind. And be real. But do not go forth and be perfect.

…just to make you laugh. 

…or almost middle school… or just left middle school ― you get my point.

Dear beauties,


If you live somewhere where they don’t call it “middle school,” I’m talking about grades 6-8, and ages 11-14. Call it “intermediate school.” Call it “junior high.” Whatever you want to call it, it is ROUGH.

Having been through middle school and having taught middle school, I consider myself pretty proficient in how it works. Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it. My dad always said, “If we really wanted to win a war, we’d deploy a plane full of 12-year-old girls. That’d do it.” Oh man, how true that is.

Teaching middle school, I heard the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else.

Going through middle school, I said the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else. And had them said about me. And so does everyone.

Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it.

But here’s the big difference: When I was in middle school, there was no such thing as Instagram. No Snapchat. No Facebook, even. Social media hadn’t been invented yet.

In my own middle school experience, if someone was talking behind your back, they did it the old-fashioned way: when your back was turned. When you left the room. In the corners of the locker room at P.E. On (now-archaic) three-way-calls after school ― and, by the way, to make those calls, one had to ask, “Is Jennifer there?” to Jennifer’s mom. Because it was a landline. Because it was 2000.

But the game has changed, my friend. Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next, and before long, everyone has seen/read/heard/watched something horrible about you.

I honestly can’t imagine what that must be like.

As a 12-year-old human, I looked like this:

My mom and me.

Please take note of a few things. Braces, first of all. Unkempt baby hairs everywhere. Chubby cheeks. I don’t think I wore makeup yet. This picture happens to be from my 12th birthday. At this particular birthday party, we had cake and watched “Stepmom” on my back porch. It was awesome.

I didn’t worry about how cute my party was because I wasn’t going to post it on Instagram later. I didn’t worry about whether I had dark circles or wrinkles on my face or about how thin I looked. I wasn’t adding this photo to my Snapstory or editing it on Facetune or ANY. OF. THAT. SHIT.

(I said “shit.” Know what kids in middle school say when their parents aren’t listening? “Shit.” Everyone calm down.)

Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next.

If you’re in middle school today, the world is telling you that you aren’t good enough. The world has always told middle schoolers that. But now, the world has new technology to drive the point home. The fact that there is an app called “Perfect 365” in which you edit yourself to look, you know, perfect… 365 days a year… is terrible. The further fact that a new version of middle school mean-girl three-way calling is for someone to pose in a picture alongside a friend, then edit ONLY themselves, leaving the other person to appear (heaven forbid!) unedited, and therefore less attractive, is MIND-BOGGLING TO ME.

On social media, we curate a very particular version of ourselves. We like to choose our best, prettiest, funniest moments. EVERYONE does this. The problem is, it’s not terribly genuine. And in lots of cases, especially middle school, it just gives people another platform to say mean things about you.

Snapchat changes their filters all the time, but one that has stuck around is the “Beauty” filter. This filter… well, actually, let me just show you:

Beautiful… according to Snapchat.

I tried to make the same face, but you get the point. The top photo is me, unfiltered, regular ol’ MC. Although I am doing what my husband calls my “social media face,” wherein I do not show my teeth and try to get the apples of my cheeks to pop.

(See? I, too, am ruined by all this crap.)

The second photo is me with the Snapchat’s “Beauty” filter ― you can see that my skin is suddenly glowing and pore-less, my eyebrows are perfectly manicured, my eyes are bigger, my nose is slenderized, my jawline and chin have been tapered and shaved down.

I have to tell you something, middle school girls:

This is all bullshit.

(I know, I said “shit” again.)

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way.

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way. Some days, you’ll mask this insecurity with confidence and it won’t bother you a bit. You’ll pursue the things you love with total and joyful abandon. These are awesome days.

Other days, on your less-than-lovely days, your insecurity will win. You will say something nasty about someone. You’ll pass around a photo of a girl in herunderwear ― a picture she sent her boyfriend in private ― and ruin that girl’s reputation. She might change schools because of it.

(A note here for all parents who may be reading this and think that middle schoolers sending each other sexually inappropriate pictures isn’t a Thing: It’s a Thing. Heads up.)

These will not be your finest moments. They are ugly moments. They’re moments that you’ll cringe about for years to come. Whatever the severity of the ugly moments ― be it idle gossip or going too far with a guy ― everyone will have them.

The idea that any of us ― ANY of us (Kylie Jenner included) ― leads a Perfect 360 life is a Perfect 360 lie.

Here it is:

Have you ever seen a sunset and pulled out your phone to try and photograph it, only to be totally disappointed that your picture isn’t reflecting how truly awesome what you’re looking at is?

That’s because reality is TOO BIG FOR OUR SCREENS. It’s just too big and grand. It won’t fit. And all that “perfection” stuff people are selling you? Not real. Not by a mile.

You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

The true, gritty, weird, kooky, off-beat, awkward, brace-face, chubby-cheeked, “does the robot at parties because you’re too self-conscious to dance” realness that is YOU is just so unbelievably fabulous that it doesn’t fit in a frame. It can’t be captured with 140 characters. It can’t be polished into submission on Facetune. You are too awesome for that. You are too good to be shoved into a tiny box with a giant lightbulb and a touchscreen. You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

So listen to me, because I’m older than you (I’ve been waiting years to say that, okay? I know it was annoying but just let me have it):

Go forth and be kind, and be weird, and be real. But do not go forth and be perfect. If I catch you attempting the myth of perfection, I will come to your house and scribble on you with permanent marker until you remember what I said about being kind and weird.

As you’re starting school, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure. Remember to join a club or a team, to be respectful to your parents and teachers, to stick by your friends. Remember how awful it felt when someone said that crappy thing about you, and try to not say a bunch of crappy things about other people ― in personor on the Internet. Hold on to the people who make you feel good about you. Be someone who says good things about others.

Whoever you are, go be that person. Unfiltered.

(And just for the record? You’re right. You can do that math with a calculator when you grow up and you don’t actually have to learn it. Don’t tell your parents I said so.)

Mary Catherine

Originally published at

How Helicopter Parenting Can Cause Binge Drinking

The Atlantic
The way some white professionals raise their children is exacerbating an alcohol problem on U.S. college campuses.


I was a teenager in the 1970s. It was a different time. We did not drink—or do drugs or have sex—in captivity. We did those things in the wild, away from our parents, in the danger and thrill of the dark, sacred night. Our parents understood that it was the beginning of the end: We were leaving them. Some of us had curfews, others did not—but either way, you could get a lot done by midnight. Beyond us, on the other side of high school, was some sort of future, probably more or less in line with our parents’ larger plans for us, but maybe not. The average middle-class kid (as we were called back then, meaning: a white kid whose parents owned a house and whose father was steadily employed) was not burnishing dreams of Princeton. Go to class, show up for the SAT, fill out the applications, and then enroll in the best, or the most interesting, or the farthest from home, or the cheapest college that lets you in. We didn’t need much help from our parents to do those things. Which meant that at night, we were free. And we did many dangerous things. Mothers were not yet against drunk driving; cheerful ladies did not give you condoms at school. It wasn’t an arcadia, and many times things went terribly wrong. But most of us survived.

Today, of course, all of that is different: Professional-class parents and their children are tightly bound to each other in the relentless pursuit of admission to a fancy college. A kid on that track can’t really separate from her parents, as their close involvement in this shared goal is essential. Replicating the social class across a generation is a joint project. That’s why it’s so hard to break into the professional stratum of society: The few available spots are being handed down within families. From this has flowed a benefit that parents love—deep emotional closeness throughout adolescence, with no shadow of a future parting. Kids don’t rebel against their parents anymore; why would they? Would you rebel against the concierge at the Hyatt?

Which leaves only the problem of the dark, sacred night. What to do about it? It’s full of everything parents fear the most: physical danger, unknown companions, illegal substances, and the development of a separate and secret life. And so, to keep their children close, to keep them safe, and to ensure that they do not escape into the wild freedom of an adolescence unfettered by constant monitoring, drinking in captivity has become a popular alternative. Drinking isn’t like doing drugs—it’s not something parents recoil from in horror. It’s something they can make an accommodation for, and so they practice “social hosting,” as the law refers to the custom: allowing teens to get hammered in the comfort and safety of the rec room. Let Charlotte and her pals suck down flavored vodka and giggle while watching Netflix; indulge Jack’s desire to have a party in the backyard. Collect the car keys, make sure no one gets into trouble, peek out from an upstairs window, bustle into the TV room with a tray of alcohol-absorbent pizza bites, and then relax in the knowledge that the kids are all right. They have the freedom to experiment that they crave and the physical protection that your peace of mind requires.

Of course, not all parents are down with this approach, and so at high-school gatherings that include parents—sports events, back-to-school nights, college fairs—you can overhear the adults gingerly sounding out one another. They speak in a kind of code, but this is what they want to know: Are you a Good Parent or a Get-Real Parent?
Good Parents think that alcohol is dangerous for young people and that riotous drunkenness and its various consequences have nothing to recommend them. These parents enforce the law and create a family culture that supports their beliefs.

Get-Real Parents think that high-school kids have been drinking since Jesus left Chicago, and that it’s folly to pretend the new generation won’t as well. The horror stories (awful accidents, alcohol poisoning, lawsuits) tend to involve parents who didn’t do it right—who neglected to provide some level of adult supervision, or who forgot to forbid anyone to get in a car after drinking.

Get-Real Parents understand that learning to drink takes a while and often starts with a baptism of fire. Better for Charlotte to barf her guts out on the new sectional than in the shadowy basement of a distant fraternity house. On the nights of big high-school events, Get-Real Parents pay for limos, party buses, Ubers—whatever it takes to ensure that their kids are safe. What is an Uber except a new kind of bike helmet?

In the beginning, everyone is a Good Parent. Bring up teen drinking among parents of elementary-school students and it will elicit the same shiver of horror as the word adolescence itself. But slowly people start defecting. At first, it’s easy to demonize the ones who chuckle fondly about their kids’ boozy misadventures. But by junior year, it feels as though everyone is telling these funny stories. The Good Parents comprise a smaller and smaller cohort, one that tends to stay quiet about its beliefs. Get-Real Parents can be bullies—they love to roll their eyes at the Good Parents, so it’s best not to expose yourself.

The top colleges reward intensity, and binge drinking is a perfected form of that quality.
Ridicule is not the only disappointment in store for the Good Parents. For one thing, high schools turn out to be more in the Get-Real business than they were a generation ago. Go to a parent meeting on some topic like “Teens and Drinking” and you’re likely to get an earful about how to keep your teen drinker safe. Teach her to recognize signs of alcohol poisoning in her friends; tell her it’s always okay to call 911; advise her to check in on conked-out partygoers every 15 minutes or so to make sure they’re just sleeping it off and not unconscious. The message doesn’t involve any moral or emotional imperatives; it has to do only with not ending up dead or in jail.

Furthermore, the Good Parent who naively assumes that preventing a teenager from drinking will help him or her in the college-admissions stakes is dead wrong. A teenager growing up in one of the success factories—the exceptional public high school in the fancy zip code, the prestigious private school—will oftentimes be a person whose life is composed of extremes: extreme studying, extreme athletics, extreme extracurricular pursuits, and extreme drinking. Binge drinking slots in neatly with the other, more obviously enhancing endeavors. Perhaps it is even, for some students, necessary. What 80-hour-a-week executive doesn’t drop her handbag on the console table and head to the wine fridge the second she gets home? Her teenager can’t loosen the pressure valve that way—he has hours of work ahead. A bump of Ritalin is what he needs, not a mellowing half bottle of Shiraz. But come Saturday night? He’ll get his release.

The top colleges reward intensity, and binge drinking is a perfected form of that quality. Moreover, it’s highly correlated with some of the activities admissions officers prize most, such as varsity sports: High-school athletes are less likely to use drugs and more likely to drink alcohol than their fellow students. Colleges complain like hell about binge drinking, but their admissions policies favor the kind of kids most likely to take part in it.

By 12th grade, parents have made their decisions, and made peace (more or less) with the decisions of their peers. The year grinds on, seeming to last forever, until, abruptly, it’s over. After an oddly moving blast of “Pomp and Circumstance” on a hot morning, there it is: childhood’s end. The summer is a strange, liminal time, and then the cars are loaded up, the airplanes boarded, and the parents stand on green lawns in college towns and say goodbye. Now the teenagers are far from home, with only the remembered counsel of the people who love them most to help them negotiate what lies ahead.

College drinking, including extreme heavy drinking, has been a tradition since the 19th century. Because of this, it can be hard to convince middle-aged people that something has changed. But the consistent—at times urgent, at times resigned—report from college officials is that something has gone terribly awry and that huge numbers of students regularly transform the American campus into a college-themed spin-off of The Walking Dead. They vomit endlessly, destroy property, become the victims or perpetrators of sexual events ranging from the unpleasant to the criminal, get rushed off in ambulances, and join the ever-growing waiting lists for counseling. Depression and anxiety go hand in hand with heavy drinking, and both are at epidemic proportions on campus.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act—the “21 law”—is often blamed for the college drinking problem, on the theory that it pitted students against campus authorities and drove drinking underground, where it became an extreme, ritualized behavior. But the truth is more complex. Overall drinking rates on campus have gone down since the law’s passage in 1984, as they have among 18-to-21-year-olds not in college. The law’s public-health benefits are undeniable. And yet many of the students already primed to be heavy drinkers have begun consuming alcohol in the intense new manner, chasing not a high but oblivion.
How much are these students drinking? We don’t know. In 1994, Harvard’s College Alcohol Study established what is still the prevailing definition of a college binge: five or more drinks in a row for a man, and four or more for a woman. But while this measure may have been useful a quarter century ago, it’s essentially useless today, when bingers often have 10 or more drinks in a night. The change on campuses may involve not the number of students drinking but the intensity with which they drink—by the traditional measure, fewer students are binge drinking, but of those who do, a sizable number are now doing so to the extreme. A study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Health Education found that 77 percent of college freshmen “drink to get drunk”—and what today’s college student calls being “drunk” is oftentimes something an expert would define as being in a blackout.

Who are these students? By and large, they constitute the most privileged subset of undergraduates, and those who would (unwisely) emulate them. The students at the center of this culture are most likely to be the children of white, college-educated parents, young people whose free time is probably spent not working to help support themselves, but rather participating in certain activities, most notably Greek life and athletics. They are at the center of the most visible social scene on campus, and while their sorrows and travails unfold in private, their wild partying is a public spectacle.

Black students drink less than all other races on campus.
Some less privileged students look on in disdain, while others gaze in envy, imagining that if they only pour enough booze down their throats, they will join the crowds of wealthy white sorority sisters, with their polished hair and bouncy cheerfulness. But for these kids, who lack the layers of protection and support that cocoon the richer and whiter kids, the consequences can be harsh.

Black students drink less than all other races on campus. Why? The question hardly merits an answer. Drinking while black can be downright dangerous, as local police officers tend to take a dim view of young black people breaking laws. Last year, a black University of Virginia student sustained head injuries requiring 10 stitches after he was arrested by three state law-enforcement officers for the outrageous act of trying to enter a student bar. “I go to UVA, you racists!” he yelled at the men, blood streaming down his face. Not long after the Ferguson riots, at a New Hampshire outfit named Keene State College (87 percent white), a local event called Pumpkin Fest turned the area around the campus into a kind of war zone in which young people—including students from Keene and other local colleges—took part in a massive drunken riot that included throwing billiard balls and full bottles of alcohol at cops, pulling street signs out of the ground, setting fires, overturning a car, and reportedly threatening to kill police officers. In the disappointed characterization of Keene State’s president, the children failed to “pumpkin responsibly.” How long would those behaviors be tolerated if they were committed by young black men?
This kind of spectacle, with its confusing mixture of misery and social power, encourages Good Parents and Get-Real Parents to make their very different decisions. Good Parents want their children to avoid the unhappiness that binge drinking can result in. They may also wish to transmit to their children larger values—of abiding the law, or of religious practice, or of aligning themselves with activities that will uplift rather than diminish a person. Intuitively, the Good Parent understands something public-health research confirms: that when it comes to alcohol use, adolescents take their parents’ counsel into strong consideration. Today’s young people—unlike members of my own, ’70s generation—don’t ignore their parents’ guidance on important matters; they seek it. Even if the child of a Good Parent decides to drink, she has a lodestar that many of her peers do not. When she wakes up in the mess and humiliation of a morning after, she thinks: This isn’t what my parents want for me.

What about the Get-Real Parents? Don’t they love their children? Of course they do. Some of them even think they’re helping their kids by teaching them to drink while they’re still at home—like “the Europeans,” or, more specifically, “the French.” Leaving aside the fact that the French have their own burgeoning teen-drinking problem, the research shows that college binge drinking is a performative behavior, with its own customs and vocabulary and a high degree of intentionality. Kids don’t binge instead of drinking moderately; they do it in addition—they perceive the two behaviors as distinct. You can teach a young person to enjoy a glass of good wine with dinner, but this will not be a protective factor when it comes to binge drinking. It will probably be irrelevant. Kids don’t binge on pinot noir and braised lamb shanks. They binge on flavored vodka and cinnamon whiskey, and they do it until they puke. As for letting them drink heavily with their pals so they can “learn their limits”—the way parents did back in the day—that notion is out-of-date. The point of college binge drinking today is that there are no limits. Blacking out isn’t a mistake; blacking out is the goal.
The real question about these parents (many of whom pay for their kids’ alcohol, revel in their stories about the shit show, delight in emails from campus highlighting new services for the plastered, such as golf-cart rides back to the dorm by helpful safety officers) is this: Why have they so cheerfully handed over their children to this ugly and worthless experience?

To a large extent, what many Get-Real Parents are interested in is success. Ever since returning home from the maternity ward, they have been in the business of raising winners. Winners make varsity, winners take Advanced Placement classes, winners apply early decision to selective colleges, and winners are at the top of the social hierarchy at their competitive high schools—which means they boot and (more important) rally. Perhaps, for some of the more mercenary and lucrative professions—including stock trading, investment banking, and high-stakes sales—there are actually benefits to heavy drinking. A binge drinker emerges from college both elevated and coarsened: educated enough to compete in the market and sullied enough by the hard knocks of binge drinking that he won’t be too shocked by what he finds there.

No wonder these young people keep drinking. The hollowness at the center of their lives—the increasing abandonment of religion, the untethering of sexuality not just from relationships but even from kindness, the race to jump aboard the stem express because that’s where the money is, the understanding of eventual parenthood as something that will be subordinated to the management of two successful careers, and the understanding that their own parents care so little about them that they will happily allow them to sustain the kind of moral injuries that blackout behavior often engenders—would make too much consciousness hard for anyone to take.

What are these kids really vomiting up every weekend at their fancy colleges? Is it really just 12 shots of apple-flavored vodka? Or is it a set of values, an attitude toward the self and toward others, that has become increasingly hard for them to stomach?

Being Left Out Hurts: Moms, Stop ‘Social Engineering’

Today Parenting Team

By Lisa Barr

I heard a disturbing story recently from a friend, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It went something like this … the camp buses were leaving for an overnight camp in the Midwest, and one Mom somehow had access to get on one of the buses before departure. She literally managed to rope off (save) an entire section for eight 11-year-old girls. She stayed on the bus while the “Chosen 8” boarded and sat in their “designated” seats. Another girl, a new camper, got on the bus, who was the same age, and asked if she could join “those” girls. The Mom responded: “I’m sorry, but it’s reserved” and then she got off.

The clique had been formed and there was no room for “intruders.” (I’ll get to that Mom a little later…)

The new girl, let’s call her Sarah, had been given three simultaneous messages: 1. You are not invited. 2. You are not good enough. 3. This is “The Group” — and you are not part of it, so don’t even try.


One of the main reasons I started my blog GIRLilla Warfare ( was because of the overabundance of Middle School war stories that I had been hearing from so many moms. Same story, different players. And I hate to say this, but the root of this particular social evil, is usually (sadly) initiated by a group of Moms. One of our GW writers pointed out in another blog, that those Moms decide who is IN and who is OUT. It is political, and it is what we at GIRLilla Warfare call “Suburban Social Engineering” which ends up causing many children deep, unnecessary pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Many kids choose to be with whom they feel most comfortable, and that’s totally acceptable. It’s the piece in which the Moms not onlyhelicopter but also patrol kids’ potential friendships that I’m focusing on here.

One Mom shared a story about how her daughter is best friends with a particular girl in her overnight camp, where they spend eight weeks together, inseparable, but when school comes around that girl “drops her daughter” because she is considered on the fringes of “The Group” — not an insider. The message that girl is getting is similar to Sarah’s, just the next step up: You are good enough for the summer, but not during school. See ya, in July.

What does a 12 year old girl do with that? What does her Mom do with that, who happens to be friends with the other girl’s mother?

Does she tell her?

I’m sorry to break the news, but that Mom already knows. In fact she called the “dropped” girl’s Mom to say (and I paraphrase): My daughter is having a party next week, and I just want to give you the heads-up that your daughter is not invited because she is not close friends with the other girls. You understand, right?

Another scenario that I personally witnessed a few years ago was a close friend’s Middle-School daughter had organized a group to go “Trick or Treating” and was very excited about it. Two weeks before Halloween, however, another girl in her class (with whom she has no problems) decided to have a party and invited every girl in that group but THAT particular girl. In short, the girl who organized the “T or T” was left alone, with no plans for Halloween. Her friends, however, all went to the party, and not a single mother of those girls said, “Hey, my daughter has plans with X, can she come too?”

The problem I told my friend (whose daughter was dumped) is that all those moms were just so happy (relieved) that their own daughter was included that they were “afraid” to go to bat for another kid. I know many of you might not agree with me … but I believe in scenarios such as this one, as a Mom, you can and should “stick up” for another child, and make that callon his or her behalf. The actual Mom of the kid (in theInvisible Book of Middle School Protocol), unfortunately, cannot do it, but YOU can do it for her.

I know we all wrestle with the same question at various points: Do I call? What will be the consequences for my kid if I do?

Two years ago, my eldest daughter was graduating from eighth grade. I was literally so sick of hearing these stories of kids around town being left out in a “brutal” way. Let me just interrupt myself here and say that these actions are not exclusive to my community. Not by a stretch. It occurs nationwide, suburban-wide. So if you live in my town, please note, I’m not singling you out. Anyway, I decided to take a drastic step. I contacted a friend and said, “I know this is crazy but let’s invite the whole damn class for a graduation party. We can have it in my backyard. Why not?”

And so we did. We sent out flyers and passed them around in the lunchroom. We hired a high school deejay and set up a movie in the backyard, and nearly every mom in the class sent something to my house — four full tables filled with desserts (the local Fire Department LOVED the leftovers). And there it was: the “popular” kids, the theater kids, the goth kids, the athletes, the mathletes — every type of “group” was united in my backyard and it was a mingling like I’d never seen before, and probably will never see again. I received at least 10 calls from various parents, saying, “Thank you, my son/daughter has not been invited to a single party his/her entire junior high experience. (That made me cry inside — imagining those children scrolling through all the social events they were NOT invited to, courtesy of Facebook).

But here’s what really came out of what I call an “umbrella” party. It had a Domino Reaction. A friend called and said, “You know, I heard about your crazy party. You’re nuts. But … I had actually invited six boys to my son’s birthday party in a few weeks. And after hearing that you included everyone and how great it was, I made calls and invited the other five boys in his class that I had initially left out.”

There were at least three other parties that “inclusion” became the theme. Not everyone can throw a bash for 150 kids. It wasn’t the party; it was the message — TEACH YOUR KID BY EXAMPLE TO INCLUDE. I can’t even begin to tell you what that does for a shy kid to get an “unexpected” invitation. The impact is a game changer for that child.

There’s another crucial piece I believe that falls somewhere in the Being Left Out category — much further down the line, and truly serious. Teen Suicide.There have been a spate of young suicides in the Chicagoland area in the past several months. Some causes have been attributed to too much pressure, bullying, homosexuality, girlfriend/boyfriend problems, and eating disorders.

Middle School and High Schoolers have to deal with a lot of pain — rejection, particularly — as they try to forge their own identities. We as parents need to help give them the necessary tools when life feels so dark. We need to be on the lookout if we see kids we know drastically changing — going from happy to morose. We need to listen hard, if we hear (as I recently did) from our own child that a friend of hers/his is cutting themselves. Be on the look out, and don’t be afraid to make That Call to a parent or a close friend of that parent expressing your concern, even if you feel it’s not your place.

This is, in my opinion, the true “Neighborhood Watch.”

I learned from a very young age that making The Call makes all the difference. I was in 7th grade and my younger brother told me that his friend was being abused by his Dad, but made me swear not to tell our parents because they knew the father. So I honored my brother, but I did call the school anonymously and told the principal what was happening. The principal took care of the situation, and that father was later arrested for child abuse.

My point: Make the damn call. If you see a child being left out, bullied, or worse, and you know about it — don’t be afraid to stand up for someone else’s kid. You can always use anonymity and call the principal to get the ball rolling.

I don’t mean for any of us to become “Gladys Kravitz” — and I know sometimesnot minding our own business backfires, but my personal philosophy is Better the Call Than the Consequences.

That Mom on the bus with the social “rope” should be ashamed of herself. Sadly, the only time she will ever really know how “it” feels is when her own kid is left out. And don’t be misled, even the most popular of girls and boys get “dissed.” No one gets by in life scot-free.

I am not a shrink, and my advice is only opinion and personal experience. But perhaps the most important lesson to teach and show by example to our children is the oldest and goldest one of all: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

And then, my friends, let’s see how the cards fall …

Lisa Barr is the editor and creator of GIRLilla Warfare, and the author of the award-winning novel “Fugitive Colors” – A version of this post was published on the

Parenting, Not for the Moment, but for the Long Haul



CreditJessica Lahey

Walking through the woods with a friend on a recent spring afternoon, I lamented the lack of progress my son has made on the organizational front. Like many tweens, his frontal lobe is barely half-baked, and his ability to master the demands of middle school lags behind his teachers’ expectations. Despite strategy sessions and elaborately-laid plans, his backpack and locker continue to function as, in his words, “a Tardis gone wrong” for all things essential and time-sensitive.

My friend listened, made some supportive, empathetic noises, and then reminded me of how far he has come over the span of years rather than days. Her lovely point flitted past, well over my head, as I trudged through the muck and mire of my self-pity.

Later on that day, when I was done feeling sorry for myself, I realized that, of course, she was right. He has made progress; maybe not as compared with yesterday, or the week before, but in the long view.

Parents tend to ignore the long view as we race along in our listicle-driven lives, fueled by the promise of “Five Steps to Tantrum-Free” and “Thirty Days to a Happy Kid.” Those timelines and linear progressions mean nothing to the toddler mid-tantrum or the tween mid-sulk. Tempting as the shortcuts may be, they are mere sideshow attractions and distractions from the real work of raising our children. Parenting is, after all, a long-haul job.

I have no problem keeping this perspective at work, when it applies to the education, care and feeding of other people’s children. As a teacher, I am practiced in the art of the long view, in measuring the cumulative skills and knowledge that constitute an education over days and months and years, even as they wander off course, fall behind, and have to sprint to catch up.

When I call a parent at home with bad news, or deliver a worrisome progress report, the long view is often the best hope I can offer. Fear can cause a parent’s perspective to shrink to an anxiety-dense singularity, but a glimpse of the long view can bring just about any parent back from that point of no return. I promise them: given time, space and distance from this moment, your child will be fine.

I don’t blame parents when this happens, because I know that even seasoned parenting and child development professionals lose perspective when chaos strikes at home.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, father and adolescence expert, offered me reassuring professional advice in one breath (“All parents go through rough patches with their kids, but sometimes the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that this too shall pass”) but admitted in the next that he has failed to maintain any sense of perspective when it comes to his own children (“Our son went through a period where he was inconsolable; I thought I’d lose my mind”).

Jennifer Senior, mother and author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” answered my emailed plea for perspective with: “One of the most problematic aspects of modern parenthood, I think, is that we believe — falsely — that we have more control than we do. But what if the answer is simply time? Patience? The child who worried you 10 seconds ago will dazzle you 20 minutes later. Imagine that logic applied to the whole arc of a life.”

Finally, I turned to Launa Schweizer, one of the wisest educators and parents I know. Because she has taught her middle school students since elementary school, and has raised two magnificent teenage daughters, she is my Jedi Master of the long view, the friend I turn to when I’m bedeviled by the details. I asked her to Jedi mind-trick me back to sanity, to re-acquaint me with the virtues of time and patience. She sent me the following paragraph:

The boy who loved subways who becomes a theater tech whiz. The quiet girl who started learning English in fifth grade and goes on to win the science award. This year’s graduating seniors, kids I met 10 years ago when they were 7 and 8 years old, now heading off to become artists and engineers.

And just when I was writing back with the news that I was nominating her for sainthood, she copped to the following in a subsequent email: “But just this morning, my husband and I had a full-on screaming fight with my daughter over a bra strap and combat boots. I completely lost sight of the long game: her growth, and how little this moment would matter. Luckily, our mistakes, like theirs, come out in the wash.”

Children don’t take a direct path to adulthood; they wander. They are less concerned with our elaborate timelines and checklists than the fairy houses and climbing trees they spot along the side of the road. This June, as we race from concert to tournament to parent-teacher conference, get reacquainted with your rear-view mirror and look behind you for a moment. I promise: that grumpy, disorganized tween in the back seat, texting about her horrid, nagging mother and a C in Algebra, is going to be just fine.

4 Unhealthy Norms of Parenting Teens

4 Unhealthy Norms of Parenting Teens

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Poppin’ Bottles

Many parents allow their teens to consume alcohol. Commonly, this is based on a skewed logic pattern that allowing said consumption will make the teen “better” at drinking alcohol in college. Some take it a step further by furnishing both the alcohol and venue to make consumption more accessible. A toolkit. Awesome, right? Not so much.

First, a question: what does that really mean…to be “better” at drinking?  Others trade out the phrase “better” with “more equipped”; semantics aside, the disconnect in logic is palpable and dangerous. Being “better” at or “more-equipped” to consume alcohol as a teenager is never constructive when viewed through the lens of widely-accepted scientific research. Yes, in the short-sighted throws of managing teens it is no doubt easier to allow than disallow consumption; a trade-off made to avoid conflict, keep better tabs on children and appear more “chill”. Warning: this can and often does become a deal with the Devil.

The opposite approach of not being an active participant in your teen’s alcohol consumption requires a steadfast commitment to avoid this “chill” parent phenomenon. It requires parents to zoom out and ask: how does “better” or “more-equipped” look long term in the health and vibrancy of my teen? Hint: not well. Teenage brain development is restricted by alcohol. Long term memory is adversely affected; alcohol fuels volatility and hostility, disrupts sleep patterns, and lends itself to depression and anxiety. Teens are significantly more likely to develop long term addictions and less likely to develop resiliency when alcohol enters their social regimens. When the relationship between alcohol and emotions is fostered, your child is stripped of their emotional framework to effectively withstand Hurricane Life. Teens need to experience and endure the full spectrum of emotions (happiness, sadness, disappointment, heartbreak) without the use of alcohol as a crutch.Permissive drinking creates the false illusion that its use is acceptable, expected and necessary; none of these are true. Not to mention it is illegal! Imagine the convoluted message your permission sends: certain laws are negotiable, ignore your health, and forget the long term game. Do you furnish cigarettes or marijuana to your teens, encourage them to speed in their car, plagiarize essays or steal? I could go on.

Still down to provide a keg and a basement for your teenage son and his bros?

Welcome to the Real World

As high schoolers enter their final years of living at home, many parents begin pumping the brakes on rules while increasing adult freedoms to better prepare them for the “real world”. College is not the “real world”. I would support this approach if your child was actually entering the “I’m an adult and I have bills to payworld. Adult freedoms are for adults; they are warranted when the rent or mortgage is paid, full time and gainful employment is held, and autonomous responsibility and financial accountability for said actions and mistakes are demonstrated.

Your child already lives in the real world; we all do. This is their phase in the real world so should we willfully allow them to fast forward through it, or skirt it completely? As an adult and parent, it is well known that time is precious, in adon’t blink invaluable sort of way; each phase of it is vital and necessary, although seemingly awkward or painful at times. Why speed up time in this short life we live?

Just because 50 is the new 40 does not mean high school has to be the new college.

Seeing Gray 

Another innocent landmine is the belief that it is no longer necessary to assertively monitor the actions, whereabouts and behaviors of your teen. Why?Older teens need more accountability and not less; it’s a you can’t put lipstick on a pig, kind of thing. Gray is not a color that teens wear well; they need black and white contrast. Do this, not that. If you do this, that happens. They crave clear lines. Zeens (Google it) are more likely to engage in risky behaviors with more permanent consequences. Think DUI, think pregnancy, think medical marijuana cards and dealing drugs, think felony.

While I openly endorse assertive monitoring, I do recommend packaging it in such a way that eases conflict with your teen. Perhaps you create a contract. Or incentivize positive behaviors through earned freedoms. Whatever the case, be creative and collaborative. The short term reality is that you will be so annoying, the worst parent, the uncool mom. However, this short term cost is infinitely usurped by preventing potentially fatal errors and lapses in judgment that could leave you without a child to parent.

Would you rather be uncool with a healthy child or cool without one?

Friends are for Instagram

Mistakenly, many parents consider it timely and appropriate to begin transitioning from parent to friend while their children are still in high school. This well intentioned act makes it increasingly difficult to assert control when the child views their parent as a peer. Directives from peers are seen as purely optional advice. Your child has friends; you do not need to be one, at least not right now.

If you consider your teenager one of your best friends, please stop reading this and open Instagram or Facebook. Identify someone plus or minus five years of your age; that person is your friend. While you’re at it, check out your teen’s profile to see what they’re up to. Your child is your child, you are their parent; if they want to be friends with you it’s because they’re playing you. Seriously, if you need friends, look towards your own peer group and go out and meet people. Join a tennis club or a book club, or take a cooking class; befriend the parents of your child’s friends; do something. You, as a parent need and deserve a support system and outlet of your own! But it should not be vicariously through your own child.

Ten years ago when my wife and I were new residents of Southern California we knew no one so we joined a kickball league (I know, right?!); fast forward to present time…they are still some of our closest friends. Our OGs.

A Call to Action.

I urge you to collectively rein in the booze; allow your teen to live in their true phase of life; create clear expectations and manage behaviors carefully; parent your teen; and do it all out of, and with, love.

You’ve got this…

Helping a Perfectionist Child Worry Less and Do More

The New York Times

By JESSICA LAHEY date published JANUARY 29, 2015 10:42 AM date updated

January 29, 2015 

A question I’ve been getting a lot recently, both via email and in person, is this: How can I help my perfectionist child worry less, and understand that it’s normal to make mistakes?

“Perfectionism,” in its dictionary definition, is simply, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable,” but the word carries a powerful double meaning in our achievement-obsessed culture. Parents shake their heads and sigh with frustration in conferences, describing their children as “perfectionists” with an unmistakable note of pride in their voice.

Aye, there’s the rub — we all know perfection is an unreasonable burden to place on our children, but we also reward them when they strive for that perfection. Whether it germinates in a child’s own mind, is sowed in the high expectations of parents, or grafted on from our larger societal expectations, perfectionism robs children of opportunities to become stronger, more adventurous thinkers.

I first met Victoria when she was in sixth grade. She showed up for school every day nearly incandescent with happiness. She loved school, adored her friends and was genuinely excited about learning. Over time, however, her fear and anxiety about not measuring up — to her own high standards, her parents’ hopes and her peers’ high praise — began to dull that enthusiasm. Her struggles with perfectionism culminated in a near-paralysis in my writing class, social anxiety, and an eating disorder that threatened her physical health and emotional stability in high school. I asked her to describe what it feels like to struggle with unreasonable and unrelenting high expectations:

My perfectionism feels like an assembly-line supervisor whose job it is to ensure that every part of me is flawless, without any sign of weakness. Writing my graduation speech in your class, for example, felt so big, so critical, that it became impossible. When I entered high school, my body felt like the most flawed part of me, so I felt the need to align it with the rest of my “perfect” image of myself. It’s weirdly satisfying to punish yourself with exercise or restricted food while at the same time becoming more “perfect”; it’s a twisted cycle. My perfectionism still gets in the way of forming friendships, too. I set out looking for the “perfect” friend and then act perfect around her so as to create what I think will be an ideal relationship.

I asked Martin Antony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University and an author of “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough,” to give parents and teachers advice on how to help kids like Victoria manage their perfectionism, and develop a healthier perspective on their worries.

In a phone interview, Dr. Antony described two forms of perfectionism. The first type, the kind that manifests as extreme attention to details, lists, order and arbitrary rules, is associated with obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The second type, Dr. Antony said, “is the tendency to set really high standards that you can’t possibly meet, and then judge your worth based on whether or not you meet those standards. The need to get all A’s, or the need to always make a good impression on others, for example. This type of perfectionism is more likely to be associated with anxiety and depression.” If the perfectionism causes significant distress or impairment in day-to-day functioning, Dr. Antony suggested professional help. At more moderate levels, parents and teachers can do a lot to help:

Expose worries. While it can be tempting to avoid upsetting kids, it’s important to get them talking about their worries, and to help them develop an emotional vocabulary about those concerning situations or activities. Once they open up about what makes them anxious, parents and teachers should repeatedly expose them to those triggers. This “exposure therapy” works particularly well for children with social anxiety, Dr. Antony said.

Change perspective. Dr. Antony suggests that parents or teachers help kids change the way they understand their perfectionistic thinking. Help kids understand that the dire consequences they envision are one possible outcome of many. Alternately, practice looking at worrisome situations from other people’s perspectives. Ask “What would Dad think if his pencil broke while he was working?” or “How might your friend Eli react if he got some of his homework problems wrong?”

Examine the evidence. Once kids are able to view their dire predictions as guesses or from the perspective of other people, help them gather evidence about the real-life consequences of those anxiety-fueled predictions. One way to do this is through engaging in what Dr. Antony calls “behavioral experiments.” He explained, “some people are convinced that if their towels aren’t straight, or their books aren’t in alphabetical order, or they pronounce something the wrong way, that something terrible will happen. So we’ll have them go out and try that, see what happens, to challenge that perfectionistic thinking.”

View failure more broadly. Try to help kids see mistakes “as an opportunity to improve performance, or even to learn that a particular activity is not for you,” Dr. Antony said. “Sure, there are some cases when you make a mistake and there are negative consequences, but there are also a lot of cases in which scary, worrisome predictions may not come true.”