With Hair Bows and Chores, YouTube Youth Take On Mean Girls

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JoJo Siwa, wearing her signature hair bows, has millions of YouTube views to her credit.CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Thirteen-year-old JoJo Siwa rolled up to school in a souped-up vintage car with a giant pink bow plastered on the grill. Inside the car, with her blond hair tightly pulled into a side ponytail and wrapped in a pastel yellow bow, she sang to her mother, “I don’t really care about what they say,” while a group of mean girls wearing not-so-pastel clothes snickered from a bench. (We know they’re mean girls because the words “mean girls” are displayed on the screen next to them.)

“Don’t let the haters get their way,” JoJo’s mother, also clad in yellow pastel, told her.

No worries. The new young teenage heroine of suburban America showed no fear. After winning a rowdy dance battle in her video “Boomerang,” which has gotten over 200 million views on YouTube, JoJo places a purple bow on the lead mean girl. Everyone becomes best friends.

JoJo Siwa – BOOMERANG (Official Video) Video by Its JoJo Siwa

Unlike the red, oversize scrunchie Heather Chandler wore in “Heathers,” which was a symbol of power and authoritarianism, the bow worn by JoJo is a symbol of confidence: believing in yourself and, more important, being nice to others.

Thirteen-year-old girls aren’t generally known for their oversize bows these days, but JoJo isn’t your typical teenager. She just signed a multiplatform deal with Nickelodeon, which includes consumer products, original programming, social media, live events and music.

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JoJo performing during the 2016 Nickelodeon HALO Awards. CreditMichael Loccisano/Getty Images

Since June, JoJo’s Bows — made by H.E.R. Accessories, a licensee of JoJo’s — have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle-school set, according to Hind Palmer, Claire’s global brand marketing and public relations director.

“I can’t believe it’s a hair bow that’s doing this,” said Jennifer Roth Saad, the creative director of H.E.R. “I’ve never seen something like this.”

JoJo said in a phone interview that she had worn a side ponytail with a bow since she was 4, and she has worn it through most of her career, which includes stints on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” and “Dance Moms.” But recently, she has become well known to her 2.7 million YouTube subscribers for wearing a bow and being goofy by showing videos of her sick in bed, getting ready in the morning and playing pranks on another YouTube star.

“I’m 13, and I like being 13,” said JoJo, who divides her time between Omaha and Los Angeles. “A lot of people my age try to act 16. But just be your age. There’s always time to grow older. You can never grow younger.”

Indeed.

In Britain, where JoJo’s bows are even more successful than they are in the United States, the head teacher of a school in Bury banned the bows because they were distracting, while another school, in Long Eaton, permitted the bows so long as they conformed to dress code colors.

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The 13-year-old is part of a growing group of girls who are documenting routine behaviors and activities online for audiences nearing and in their early teenage years. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Shauna Pomerantz, a sociology professor at Brock University in Ontario and an author of “Smart Girls: Success, School and the Myth of Post-Feminism,” said school administrators had historically policed girls for wearing skirts that were too short or having exposed bra straps, not for an accessory reminiscent of the 1950s. “JoJo stands for being nice,” she said. “And the bow is a representation of JoJo. Ultimately the goal of that video is to suggest that meanness isn’t cool, and niceness is cool.”

In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their chores, divulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.

The 12-year-old competitive gymnast Annie LeBlanc, a.k.a. Acroanna, has had a YouTube channel since she was 3. On her channel, which as been viewed a combined 174 million times, Annie documents herself making slime blindfolded and investigates what’s in her purse. But mostly she appears on her family’s channel, Bratayley, where 3.9 million subscribers follow her, her parents, her 8-year-old sister, Hayley (who also has her own channel), as well as archival footage of her brother Caleb, who died two years ago at age 13 of a heart condition. There are Bratayley sponsorship deals, Bratayley merchandise and a more recent invitation for Annie to participate in Nike’s Young Athletes program, which, naturally, was documented on Bratayley.

Many popular videos made by girls in the pre- and early teenage years live on nine connected YouTube channels. Seven Super Girls, the most successful of these channels, has over six million subscribers and its videos have been viewed a combined 6.9 billion times. Each channel — others are called Seven Cool Tweens, Seven Awesome Kids and Seven Twinkling Tweens — is run with more efficiency than some professional media sites: Each girl is responsible for making a video on a specific day of the week. (Annie was on Seven Awesome Kids from 2010 to 2011.) They follow a set of guidelines that include weekly themes, and precludes them from giving their surnames and location.

The SAKs channels, as they are known, were started in 2008 by seven families in Britain who, in the early days of YouTube, wanted to make sure their children were making family-appropriate content. The only remaining parent of that original partnership is Ian Rylett, who is currently in charge of the SAKs operation.

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JoJo’s Bows have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle school set, according to a company spokeswoman. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Mr. Rylett, who lives in Leeds, said producing the channels was essentially his full-time job. He and a team of six others take care of copyright issues, create sponsorship deals, come up with weekly themes, monitor the channels and arrange meet and greets. The tickets for a 1,000-seat event that is coming up in Orlando, Fla., are selling for $30 each.

Mr. Rylett receives an income from the channels, as do some of the girls. The girls own their own content, he said, but they have not signed contracts.

Alexis, a 12-year-old from Southern California whose parents wanted her surname withheld for privacy reasons, has made close to 200 videos for Seven Cool Tweens and Seven Awesome Kids over the past three years. Alexis wears her reddish-brown hair in a braid, no makeup and braces. Her bedroom isn’t catalog perfect. Her most popular videos revolve around silly antics like pranking family members (which received 23.2 million views), making a mess of herself and her outfit before the school dance and getting grounded for life. The appeal? “Kids want to watch kids,” Alexis said in a phone interview.

Emily (a screen name), 12, of Seven Awesome Kids is home-schooled in Southern California. Some of her most popular videos — she writes and edits them herself over two days — include walking through a mysterious forest and finding an angel potion. “She’s a little Stanley Kubrick, controlling everything,” said her father, Tim Gould.

While Alexis has received money from the SAKs channel (though she has not been involved in sponsorship deals), Emily has not received money, their parents said.

“They’re free to leave whenever they want,” Mr. Rylett said. “They can take their content with them. When they do get older, it is quite common for them to look back and say, ‘Eww.’”

The parents seemed ambivalent about the arrangement — knowing that allowing their children to have an online identity comes with risks of harassment or worse — but they don’t want to stop their daughters from dreaming of becoming a director or an editor or a writer. Or a television star.

Yet this YouTube activity, even depicting wholesome activities, is disconcerting for Emily Long, the director of communications and development at the Lamp, a media-based literary group. “It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,” Ms. Long said. “That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.”

She would like to see girls being recognized for more thoughtful content, she said, such as that of Marley Dias, 12, who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign last year after recognizing a scarcity of black-girl protagonists.

“If I had a 13-year-old,” Ms. Long said, “I would push her toward someone like Marley Dias instead of JoJo. But Marley Dias doesn’t sell giant hair bows. Marley Dias sells social justice and social causes and writing and nerd culture. And there’s plenty to market there.”

The Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram

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CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

The challenge of growing up in the digital age is perfectly epitomized by the “bikini rule.”

“You can post a bikini or bathing suit picture only if you are with your siblings or your family in the picture,” said one middle-school girl participating in a focus group on digital media. In other words, don’t try too hard to be sexy, and you will be O.K. in the eyes of your peers.

By high school, the rules change. At that stage, a bikini picture often is acceptable — and even considered “body positive” in some circles.

As an educational consultant, I lead workshops on digital media at schools around the country, giving me an unusual glimpse into the hidden world of middle and high school students. While parents sometimes impose rules for using social media on their kids, the most important rules are those that children create for themselves.

And these often unspoken rules can be dizzying.

Girls want to be sexy, but not too sexy. Be careful which vacation photos you share so you don’t brag. It’s O.K. to post photos from a fun event, but not too many.

In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users. It was clear that they understood the dynamic of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of “rules” about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel. They used an example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social rules, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project, the girl had displayed pictures from a vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered that an immature form of “bragging.” They said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses,” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment that some of their parents even encouraged. A few of the girls said that their moms did not want them to hang out with her because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this very sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, causing hurt feelings and conflicts.

Middle school can be an especially complicated time for girls. They are experimenting with social identity, while their always-on digital world intensifies the scrutiny. Many want to be seen as pretty (and even sexy, in some ways), but they also want to be seen as innocent and “nice.” This is an impossible balancing act. Parents can help by suggesting more empowering alternatives to posting bathing suit pictures.

Another group of seventh graders (mixed gender, in a different community) shared with me the rules around how many pictures to post from an event. They had a sense of what was acceptable and what was not. Posting one to three images was O.K., they said, but they all agreed that it was “obnoxious” to “blow up people’s phones” with a huge stream of images from a party or event.

These images can lead to feeling of exclusion as well. Imagine watching a party unfold, in real time, on Snapchat or Instagram — when you’re not there. This experience can be absolutely devastating to teens and tweens. When I asked these particular seventh graders about this, they said that it happened all the time — and that it can be hard to deal with.

With their lives constantly on display, it’s challenging even for well-intentioned kids to avoid making others feel excluded. Their “rule” for this was that “it is better not to lie or make excuses” if you are with one friend and another friend wants to hang out. It’s better to be honest and say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then risk sharing images of yourself out with friends later.

Parents often feel as if their children’s smartphones are portals to another world — one that they know little to nothing about. A study released last month found that fewer than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tweens and teens.

But parents need to know their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media, and they should ask their kids about them. What are you “allowed” to post — and what seems to be off-limits? Is that “rule” the same for boys vs. girls? Why or why not? Can you show me an example of a “good” post (or a “bad” post)? Does social media ever stress you out (and can you give yourself a break)? How can kids in your group make group texts or social media nicer for everyone?

In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers of teenagers’ brains responded to the reward of getting likes on Instagram just as they do to thoughts of sex or money. Just as parents try to teach children to have some self-control around those enticements, we also have to talk to them about not falling victim to behavior they’ll regret when craving “likes.”

As parents, we don’t want our kids to make a big mistake online: writing something mean in a group text, posting a too-sexy picture or forwarding one of someone else. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there.

Getting your child to articulate the unspoken rules can be the first step in helping him or her be more understanding with peers. When we observe our children harshly judging others who have a different sensibility about how to use social media, they need us to set aside our judgments about their world and to help them cultivate empathy for one another.

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.

08/23/2016 
…just to make you laugh. 

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

Dear beauties,

Hey.

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:

Filter-less.
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.)

Love,
Mary Catherine

Originally published at deephungerdeepgladness.com

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.

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One of the main reasons I started my blog GIRLilla Warfare ( www.girlillawarfare.com) 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” – www.fugitivecolorsthenovel.com. A version of this post was published on the siteIEatBitchesForBreakfast.com.

Moms’ Middle-School Blues

The Wall Street Journal
Mothers feel most stressed about parenting when their children are in middle school, new research shows
All mothers have their ups and downs, but their children’s middle-school years are when they feel most empty and unfulfilled, a large new study shows. WSJ columnist Sue Shellenbarger joins Tanya Rivero to discuss.

By SUE SHELLENBARGER
Updated May 17, 2016

Mothers feel more anxious, dissatisfied and doubtful about their own parenting skills when their children are in middle school than at any other stage, new research shows.
The turbulence that hits sixth- through eighth-graders often begins with the onset of puberty, bringing physical changes and mood swings. Also, many students transfer from close-knit elementary schools to larger middle schools. Childhood friends may be separated, classes are often tracked by ability and teachers are more demanding.

Mothers often lose touch with other elementary-school parents who became friends. School officials often press them to back off and give students a longer leash. As a result, some parents may withdraw from others and bottle up the stress and sadness they feel if their children rebel at home or hit a rough patch at school.

The finding that moms of middle-schoolers have greater distress and lower well-being comes from the most ambitious and carefully targeted look yet at mothers’ well-being from childbirth until their children’s adulthood. The study of more than 2,200 mostly well-educated mothers was published in January. Those with infants and grown children are happiest, says the study, led by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Mothers were recruited for an online survey by word-of-mouth, fliers, media reports and lectures. Researchers asked them to respond to validated scales measuring anxiety, depression, stress, emptiness, loneliness, parental guilt, overload and perceptions of their children’s behavior. Researchers took pains to compare only mothers whose oldest and youngest children were in the same age group. This avoided any distortion that might result if there was also a happy baby or successful young adult in the household to mitigate the depressing impact of a rebellious teen.
Researchers expected to find that mothers of infants were almost as stressed as mothers of middle-schoolers, and were surprised by the result, Dr. Luthar says. “Infancy is of course trying, with the physical exhaustion and the nights up, but it’s also very rewarding to hold that baby. It’s magical and sweet,” she says. Fewer offsetting rewards come in middle school.

Mothers’ and fathers’ confidence in their ability to be good parents, including disciplining, influencing and communicating with their child, falls precipitously in middle school, says another study, a three-year look at 398 parents of children ages 11 to 15, published last year by researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Jeff and Jennifer Grosman of Washington, D.C., with their children Max, now 11, and Hannah, now 14. Dr. Grosman felt isolated at first after Hannah began pushing for more independence last year. PHOTO: LISA RAYMAN GOLDFARB
Researchers knew from previous studies that parents of teens have less confidence in their parenting ability than parents of younger children. To explore when and why those declines occurred, they recruited parents of 11- and 12-year-olds from two middle schools and had them complete interviews and written questionnaires at three one-year intervals. Among triggers for parents’ loss of confidence, the study says, were puberty-related physical changes in the children, a decline in the quality of parent-child communication and a parental belief in negative stereotypes about teenagers.

“Middle school is a gray zone—that difficult time when you don’t feel like you have the skills to handle the challenge” of parenting, says Patti Cancellier, education director for the Parent Encouragement Program, a Kensington, Md.,-based parent-training nonprofit.

Jennifer Grosman felt isolated after her daughter Hannah, now 14, began pushing for more independence last year. In middle school, “parents aren’t hanging out and bonding at the kids’ birthday parties anymore, so there isn’t an informal opportunity for conversations about parenting,” says Dr. Grosman, a Washington, D.C., psychologist. It is easy to assume your child is the only one struggling, she says. “And when people say, ‘How’s your kid doing?’ you feel like you have to say, ‘Uh, fine.’ ”
She and her husband Jeff took a 10-week class on parenting teens at the Parent Encouragement Program. They learned that other parents were having similar struggles and that much of what their daughter was going through was normal.

Dr. Grosman and two other parents also started an informal discussion group for parents of sixth-grade classmates of her younger child, Max, who is 11, to give parents a chance to build trusting friendships early in middle school. About 10 to 15 participants have met monthly since last fall to discuss topics suggested by group members, Dr. Grosman says. The group has gone so well that she plans to start a similar one for parents in her daughter’s ninth-grade class.

While worry and guilt about a child’s behavior are factors in the middle-school blues, personal needs for close friends and acceptance and comfort from others are often a more powerful predictor of mothers’ distress, Dr. Luthar says.

Having close friends you see often is a potent antidote, Dr. Luthar says, but many parents lack time for friendship “because their kids are in 10,000 activities and they’re busy ferrying them across town, worrying about college admissions” and other stressors, she says.

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Colin, Kimberly, Annie, Michael and Tim Hicks. Colin is 12, Annie is 13, and Tim is 15. Ms. Hicks fights the urge to withdraw from socializing when she feels stressed. ENLARGE
Colin, Kimberly, Annie, Michael and Tim Hicks. Colin is 12, Annie is 13, and Tim is 15. Ms. Hicks fights the urge to withdraw from socializing when she feels stressed. PHOTO: STEVEN DYMOWSKI

Dr. Luthar is testing a workplace program for employed mothers that encourages them to build close friendships. Participants must find at least two people who will agree to be their “go-to committee,” meeting with them weekly to listen and provide mutual support, she says. “The premise is basically that the same love we give to our kids, we all need for ourselves. That’s what the women are encouraged to do for each other.”

Kimberly Hicks began feeling isolated, sad and ineffective as a parent last year after her daughter withdrew from the family emotionally during middle school, arguing and criticizing family members and spending more time in her room alone, says Ms. Hicks, of Burtonsville, Md. She enrolled in a parenting class and learned that stepping back and letting her daughter make more decisions for herself might ease her rebellion.

Ms. Hicks, who is trained as a counselor, battled the urge to bottle up the stress. When she told a friend that “deep down, I’m afraid I’m not doing everything I’m supposed to do as a parent,” Ms. Hicks says, she took comfort in the friend’s empathetic reassurance that she’d felt the same way with her own children.

Ms. Hicks also fights the urge to withdraw from socializing when she feels stressed. She attends a weekly women’s group at her church. She also gets together every week or two with a friend, another middle-school parent who has similar views on child-rearing. As they work for two or three hours together on household projects, such as cleaning the garage, “we’re talking the whole time,” she says.

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Al Watts, a dad in South Elgin, Ill., has found his kids’ middle-school years harder than he expected. He doesn’t talk about the challenges with other dads as often as he suspects a mother would, he says, but he calls other dads or joins message boards to share problems. Left to right, Anna, 13; Ben, 9; Macy, 11; Rachel, 7; Shirley and Al Watts. PHOTO: KATHY ELKEY
Men share parenting problems, but they tend to be “much more direct and to the point,” says Al Watts, an author in South Elgin, Ill., who stays home to care for his four children, ages 7 to 13.

Mr. Watts says he worries about keeping communication open with his two oldest children—Anna, 13, and Macy, 11. “I thought middle school would be easier, and I was totally wrong,” he says. “The problems are much more complicated.”

When a boy asked Macy out on a date, Mr. Watts called his brother, who has a son in sixth grade, for advice. His brother’s response: “I’m glad I don’t have that problem.” Still, Mr. Watts says, talking it over helped him stay calm.

He enrolls in parenting classes offered by his school district. He also logs onto a Facebook group run by the National At-Home Dad Network, a fathers’ group, frequently, to read others’ posts and comments.

Mr. Watts has trouble finding time to see friends. When a close friend from Nebraska recently came through town, however, he made a point of meeting. “Dads need that connection too,” he says.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

 

 

5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew: Your Children Can Do More Than You Think

The New York Times

By JESSICA LAHEY date published MARCH 13, 2014

This week, I’m turning the tables and giving some space to the “teacher” half of the “Parent-Teacher Conference.” When I ask teachers, “What one thing would you want your students’ parents to know?” the same five points come up over and over again.

1. Your kids can do much more than you think they can do. Despite all evidence to the contrary, your children do not need your help tying shoes, zipping jackets, sharpening pencils, packing their backpacks and lunch, or any of the million other tasks they expect you to do for them every day.

Take some direction from kindergarten teachers. If you think it takes an eternity to get your children out the door, imagine getting 20 children out the door, six times a day. Elementary school teachers are masters of delegation, so the child proficient at shoelaces becomes their “tying expert,” and the boy with a skill for zippers becomes the designated “zipper helper,” and before you can say “self-sufficient,” every child in the class has learned to tie and zip and mitten themselves. The next time your child tells you they can’t do something, step back and wait.

2. It’s not healthy to give your child constant feedback. When children require approval on every scribble, homework problem and picture they draw, it’s probably because they have been offered feedback on every scribble, homework problem and picture they draw. It’s vital that children develop their own internal locus of approval and honest self-assessment, because as they grow up and face hardship, they need to be able to look to themselves for strength and approval. If they can’t, they will be much more susceptible to the superficial external approval that comes their way in the form of peer pressure, bullying and the usual social jostling. As you wean them off of your feedback, turn their “Mommy, is this picture good?” or “Daddy, did I do a good job?” back on them, and ask them how they feel about their work.

3. We promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home if you promise not to believe everything your child says happens in our classrooms. Experienced teachers know that not everything children share during circle time represents an accurate reflection of what goes on in their home. When, for example, my cousin’s son told to his entire class that a robot had come to his house and removed his mommy’s lady parts, his teacher was wise enough to remain skeptical. Accordingly, when your child comes home and claims that the teacher screamed and yelled at him in front of the entire class for his low test score, try to give his teacher the benefit of the doubt until you’ve had a chance to talk to the teacher about it.

4. Your children learn and act according to what you do, not what you say. You are your child’s first and best teacher, and they learn more from your actions rather than your words. When you tell your child that it’s rude to text during conversations, yet you continue to read your email while pretending to listen to him talk about his day, you are teaching him to distrust your words and your intent, while reinforcing the very behavior you seek to modify.

In the same vein, if you want to promote a behavior such as a love of learning, model that, too. Seek out new knowledge and experiences; learn something new just for the sake of learning. As teacher S.Q. wrote in an email, “Model intellectual curiosity and a visceral pleasure in learning. Not just the brainy stuff, but anything of interest (how to clean spark plugs, what kinds of wood work best on a wood lathe, what the fox says). Show your own interest in learning by reading, thinking aloud, wondering aloud.”

5. Teach your children that mistakes aren’t signs of weakness but a vital part of growth and learning. Let your children see you fail, admit to your mistakes, and talk openly about how you have learned from those mistakes. As teacher K.M. wrote in an email, “Failure is part of the process. It’s what they do after they fail that matters. If you pick them up after their every failure, they learn nothing about how to begin again.”

Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.

Is It Really ADHD or Just Immaturity?

The New York Times

Photo

CreditGetty Images

New research shows that the youngest students in a classroom are more likely to be given a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than the oldest. The findings raise questions about how we regard those wiggly children who just can’t seem to sit still – and who also happen to be the youngest in their class.

Researchers in Taiwan looked at data from 378,881 children ages 4 to 17 and found that students born in August, the cut-off month for school entry in that country, were more likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. than students born in September. The children born in September would have missed the previous year’s cut-off date for school entry, and thus had nearly a full extra year to mature before entering school. The findings were published Thursday in The Journal of Pediatrics.

While few dispute that A.D.H.D. is a legitimate disability that can impede a child’s personal and school success and that treatment can be effective, “our findings emphasize the importance of considering the age of a child within a grade when diagnosing A.D.H.D. and prescribing medication for treating A.D.H.D.,” the authors concluded. Dr. Mu-Hong Chen, a member of the department of psychiatry at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan and the lead author of the study, hopes that a better understanding of the data linking relative age at school entry to an A.D.H.D. diagnosis will encourage parents, teachers and clinicians to give the youngest children in a grade enough time and help to allow them to prove their ability.

Other research has shown similar results. An earlier study in the United States, for example, found that roughly 8.4 percent of children born in the month before their state’s cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility are given A.D.H.D. diagnoses, compared to 5.1 percent of children born in the month immediately afterward.

So how should we interpret data showing different rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis among populations of children who are similar in everything other than relative age at school entry? Cautiously, says Michael Manos, the head of Cleveland Clinic Children’sA.D.H.D. Center for Evaluation and Treatment.

“The kind of attention that you have to use in school is the kind of attention that’s difficult for a person with A.D.H.D.,” so attention deficits are more readily recognized in a classroom situation, he said. “If the diagnoses are performed accurately, then some kids are getting noticed sooner than other kids,” he said. If younger children with A.D.H.D. are starting treatment earlier because they’re starting school earlier, then that’s a good thing.

But that presumes the diagnosis is an accurate one. “When you take people who are in a 15-minute pediatric primary care physician’s office visit, and the mother describes hyperactivity and the physician automatically prescribes medication, that’s a problem,” Dr. Manos said. Many parents who describe concerns about children’s behavior “aren’t describing developmentally inappropriate behavior,” he said. “They’re describing behavior that does not meet certain expectations,” and that can be the issue in classroom settings as well, where some students are older than others.

“I think the link between age at school entry and A.D.H.D. diagnoses are not really about being young or ‘not ready,’” said Daphna Bassok, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education who has studied kindergarten readiness, by email. “Instead, I think they are about a child’srelative age. “

“In early childhood classrooms, where a month or two age difference can make a big difference,” she continued, “ teachers perceive the youngest children in the class as having more attention struggles, and behavioral struggles, than the older children, irrespective of the child’s actual age.” When those teachers flag those struggles, the path to a diagnosis is paved, but the diagnosis itself still depends on the expertise of the clinician.

Stephen Hinshaw, co-author of “A.D.H.D: What Everyone Needs to Know,” said that early recognition of attention deficits “could be an opportunity for early intervention for all kindergartners, as our society struggles to balance achievement gaps, ever earlier and stronger achievement expectations, and high student-teacher ratios in Transitional K programs, as well as for evidence-based intervention for 4-year-olds with bona fide A.D.H.D.”

“On the other hand, if this is the ticket for overzealous labeling of kids, mainly boys, who are simply needing more time to mature, that’s not what we need,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids

The New York Times, Motherlode

By LISA HEFFERNAN APRIL 8, 2015

Standing on the sidelines of my son’s soccer game I chatted with the younger sibling of one of his teammates. “I don’t really have a passion like my brother yet,” he explained, glancing over at the field. “But my parents are helping me look for one.” I waited for the note of irony that never came.

At some point in the last 20 years the notion of passion, as applied to children and teenagers, took hold. By the time a child rounds the corner into high school and certainly before he sets up an account with the Common App, the conventional wisdom is that he needs to have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crowd.

This passion, which he will either stumble upon or be led to by the caring adults in his life, must be pursued at the highest level his time and talent, and his parent’s finances, will allow. It is understood that this will offer him fulfillment and afford him and his family bragging rights that a mere dabbler would never earn. This is madness.

Our parental obsession with passion is encouraged by the college admissions process and fed by our own fears. Anyone making the rounds of college visits and sitting through the endless parade of information sessions will have heard the word “passion” uttered dozens of times. Every school, we are told, is brimming with qualified applicants, students who have the numbers. But the distinguishing factor is the student who shows passion, the proverbial oboe player, who stands out by standing alone in the devotion to her true love.

When The Washington Post disabused parents of the top 10 college admissions myths, No. 1 was that colleges want well-rounded students. Instead, it explained, “The word they most often use is passion.” When U.S. News & World Report offered suggestions on how to create a “killer college application,” it too listed passion in the top spot.

We have come to believe that only those who have passion find fulfillment and success professionally. It’s as if passion is life’s magic pixie dust. We want success for our children and believe that only passion can lead them there. We hold on to this myth despite considerable evidence that millions of people have lived long, happy, useful lives filled with joy and contentment and devoid of a defining passion.

And if passion is what makes our children look as special to colleges as they are to us, it’s also what lets us off the pushy parent hook. If a child has a “passion,” we’re not overdoing it in our zeal, or pursuing our own agenda. We’re just making their dream possible. Really, it has nothing to do with us.

If passion were just a matter of semantics, a word heedlessly thrown around in place of interest or pastime, this might not be a problem. But seeking a passion in childhood or adolescence has become an obsession in itself, and it is not without costs.

When children can’t find their elusive passions, yet feel compelled to proclaim one, they grab onto an interest, label it a passion and buy the requisite instrument or equipment. This is not a harmless charade, because fake passions crowd out real ones. When you are busy playing on the lacrosse field six days a week because in seventh grade you liked going to practices with your friends and your coach once mentioned you might have some talent, you may never discover that computer graphic design is your calling. When you take every opportunity to play piano daily in a band, orchestra and private lessons, you could easily miss the once-in-a-lifetime joy of being a member of a field hockey team. Pseudo passions can eat up our days and lay waste to any chance of finding a real ones.

Children don’t miss the message that they are supposed to find their laser focus early, and that dilettantes don’t earn accolades. They feel lost and unnecessarily pressured when they hear the relentless stories of classmates who have found their calling. Parents’ Facebook postings up the ante with quips like “Dance competition triumph. #Upatdawn #Passion” The drum beat gets louder in middle school and deafening in high school, when they know they will have to commit passion to paper in the form of the Common App, reporting accomplishments on a school, state and, yes, national level. It is hard not to feel that their chance to reach that level lessens every day.

And what becomes of us, the passion pushers, as we try to make something out of nothing every time our children show the slightest interest in an activity that does not involve a game console? Just look in your garage. O.K., I’ll go first. There are skates for the child who joined a team and went to two practices before realizing that he was not well suited for hockey. There are drum sticks and one of those funny little practice pads (thank goodness they play on those for months!) for the child who soon lost interest in percussion. There are easels and badminton sets and there was even a squash racket, but it has had a resurgence with another son.

I’d like to think of it as evidence that we let our children try new things; instead, I think it’s proof that we ran to the music, art, book, or sporting goods stores at every opportunity, lest a passing interest fail to bloom into a passion because it lacked parental money or dedication.

For most children, childhood isn’t about passion, but rather about exploration. Our job as parents is to nurture that exploration, not put an end to it. When we create an expectation that children must find their one true interest so early in life, we cut short a process of discovery that may easily take a lifetime.

Middle School: The New High School for Moms

(CNN) If you had to guess what are the most difficult years for a mother, what might you say?

Infancy? Sure, dealing with a newborn is beyond stressful, as you try to figure out how to care for an infant and adjust to a new role all on zero sleep. It would be no surprise if those years were the most taxing. But I — and probably many of you reading this — would guess adolescence, namely the high school years, which I might add I am already dreading.

But it turns out the most stressful time for moms is middle school, at least according to a new study by Arizona State University researchers published in the January issue of Developmental Psychology.

Suniya Luthar is a professor of psychology at Arizona State University.

“I was a little taken aback to see that apparently preadolescence is the new adolescence or junior high school or middle school is the new high school,” saidSuniya Luthar, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of psychology at Arizona State University.

The study involved analyzing surveys from more than 2,200 well-educated moms across the country (more than 80% had a college or graduate degree), with children ranging in age from infant to adult. Researchers then compared how mothers who only have children in one age group (infant, preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and adult) rated their feelings about their lives.

Across the board, mothers of only middle-school-age children reported the highest levels of stress, loneliness and emptiness, and also the lowest levels of life satisfaction and fulfillment. Mothers of infants and adults were found to be the most satisfied, Luthar said.

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise. Think about what’s happening to children in middle school: raging hormones, changing bodies and brains, exposure to peer pressure and risky behaviors like experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and a clash between a desire to be independent, but still feeling dependent on Mom and Dad.

“You see this person who is almost but not quite grown-up physically, saying at one moment, ‘Leave me alone. I’ve got this figured out. Let me do it my way,’ or ‘Don’t ask me questions,’ and so on, and on the other hand, they (are) crushed in tears, and looking to you for comfort just like a child. They might cry like the children they used to be, but being able to actually comfort them is nowhere near as easy,” said Luthar, who is also professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

‘It’s like I woke up with an alien’

What makes this so hard for parents is that the changes often happen so quickly, said Cynthia Tobias, co-author of the book “Middle School: The Inside Story: What Kids Tell Us, But Don’t Tell You.” which involved interviews with hundreds of middle school students across the country.

“For a lot of parents, it’s just almost overnight. You hear a lot of times, they’ll say, ‘It’s like I woke up with an alien this morning. Yesterday I had a child who loved to snuggle. Today I have a kid who can’t even stand to be around me,’ ” said Tobias.

The biggest conflicts come when parents don’t realize their children are starting to see themselves as young adults and don’t respond accordingly, said Sue Acuña, who co-wrote “Middle School: The Inside Story” with Tobias, and who has been teaching middle school for more than 20 years.

“When the parents try to treat them as if they’re still 8 or 9 years old, there’s pushback … and that catches the parents off guard and then sometimes they panic, ‘Oh no. This is what I’ve always feared in adolescence,’ and they come down harder instead of softer,” said Acuña, who also writes a blog on middle school.

Michelle Icard has been working with middle school children and teachers for over 10 years and developed a special middle school curriculum targeting boys and one targeting girls that is used at schools around the country.

Michelle Icard is author of "Middle School Makeover."

“I see these moms … you can read it on their face,” said Icard, who is also author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years.” “They’re highly stressed. They’re nervous. They don’t know what to do.”

Icard said parents would benefit by knowing the facts about middle school, how children are going through what she calls “the middle school construction project” as they start to develop a new body, new brain and new identity around age 11.

“If you know that, for example, your kid has to create an identity apart from you when they are in middle school so that they can form healthy relationships with people in the future, it makes it a little easier to bear so it’s not for nothing that your kid is separating and relying on their peers. That’s how they figure out their way in the world,” said Icard, founder of the blog Michelle in the Middle.

At the same time our children are going through this “perfect storm” of changes, said Icard, many moms are kind of going through “a middle age construction project.”

For moms who chose to stay at home during the elementary school years, this might be the time when they consider going back into the work force, which can be stressful. Mothers are also adjusting to getting older themselves and feeling a bit superfluous, no longer being the center of their child’s lives. Some research also shows that marital satisfaction is lower during the teenage years versus the years after a child is born.

For all these reasons, Icard suggested moms make sure they have a passion, hobby or something that they enjoy for themselves when their children are in middle school. “You’ll be modeling good self-care for your kid and when things get really tumultuous and they’re illogical and they’re unpredictable, you have something to dive into that makes you happy and that does a lot for stress reduction.”

The ‘Botox brow’

What parents might not realize is that their children may act like they don’t want a relationship with them during the middle school years but they really do, said Tobias and Acuña, who heard over and over again from children who wanted their parents to be involved in their lives.

Cynthia Tobias (left) and Sue Acuña, co-authors of "Middle School: The Inside Story"

The quandary is that on the one hand, kids will say their mom is always asking them questions such as who are they texting, but on the other hand, they’ll say their mom never wants to know what’s going on in their lives and never listens, said Acuña.

“I say to them, ‘Well, do you want your parents asking questions or not?’ ” she said. Their reply? “Well, they just have to know when it’s a good time to ask a question.”

I can hear mothers of middle school children screaming at this very moment: How are we supposed to know when it’s a good time to ask a question?

Acuña, who has three sons, all now in their 20s, described how she would find one of her sons during the middle school years slumped in his bedroom with the door open. She’d walk by and ask if he was OK. Then she’d say, “Is this where I’m supposed to be concerned parent and talk to you or is there where I’m supposed to give you your space?”

Her son would usually say he was alright, but then as soon as she started to walk away, he’d say something like, “It’s just that I don’t understand why people act the way they do,” she said. That was her cue to slink back into his room, sit on the floor and be prepared to listen.

Icard, who has an eighth-grader and a sophomore in high school, said mothers should learn how to listen and become more neutral in their responses by adopting what she called a “Botox brow.”

“I say to parents. You don’t actually have to get Botox. … but you have to have that look like your brow doesn’t wrinkle,” she said.

“Studies show that kids cannot read facial expressions and their default is thinking you’re angry when you’re not,” she said. “So adopt a ‘Botox brow’ and have a really neutral face when you’re talking to your kid. You’ll be surprised how much your kid opens up to you and starts coming to talk to you more.”

Middle-schoolers often feel their parents don’t take them seriously and sometimes we, as parents, don’t, said Tobias, who along with Acuña put together free guides for parents, including “The No-No List” for talking to kids in middle school.

“We’ll catch ourselves saying, ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, wait until you’re old enough and you have to pay a mortgage and then you’re going to think it’s no big deal,’ but to them, their whole world right now is middle school so they can’t even think in terms of what we’re talking to them about sometimes,” said Tobias, who taught high school for eight years and has written 13 books about learning styles and strong-willed children. “So I think they just want a little chance to be heard. They want to be understood and listened to and they want to make sure that we do take them seriously.”

The importance of not giving up

Acuña, who teaches eighth grade, said parents should also realize other communication mistakes they often make with their middle-schoolers, such as interrupting them or finishing their stories. Think how you would feel if someone did that to you as an adult, she said. That is how a child will feel.

The most successful kids, she said, in her experience, are the kids who feel their parents have their back no matter what and that even if they mess up, their parents will be supportive.

She described her parent-teacher conferences, which are led by the student presenting his or her work to the parent. “The successful kids, they’ll tell their parents, ‘Yes, I messed up here. This is what I’m going to do to work on it’ and their parents are very supportive,” she said. “The anxious kids are the ones who when they say to their parents, ‘Well, here’s a test I didn’t do well on,’ the parents go off on them. … The parents are upset and critical and (say), ‘Well you are going to be grounded for that.’ These are the kids who are afraid to take risks because they don’t feel that their parents will support them.”

Figuring out how to talk to your tween or teen and how involved to be could make even the most relaxed parent a tad crazy, but the bottom line from the middle school experts I talked with is that parents should do everything in their power to resist the urge to toss up their hands and give up.

“The parents have this tendency to just (say), ‘Fine. You don’t want to talk. Just don’t talk,’ and walk away,” said Tobias, who has twin 24-year-old sons. “But the kids themselves, they told us over and over, ‘We do want to keep a relationship with our parents. There’s so much going on we just can’t do it. We hope that they don’t walk away.’ “

Middle school is not a time to “tread water and wait out until they go through it,” said Acuña. “It’s not just a phase they’re going through. There are some key things happening and it’s a really important time to develop a relationship that will carry you through the teen years and into young adulthood.”

Luthar, the researcher and psychology professor who has two kids of her own, ages 21 and 25, agreed and also urged mothers to reach out to other moms of middle-schoolers for support.

“If ever there were truth to the saying, ‘It takes a village,’ it’s now,” she said. “It’s not it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to raise a preteen.”

Why do you think middle school is the most stressful time for mothers? Share your thoughts withKelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Health on Twitter or Facebook.

App Makers Reach Out to the Teenager on Mobile

Here’s an interesting article on the social media habits of teenagers.  It is important for us to remember that middle school students have a strong desire to stay connected to their friends and classmates, and that social media is one of the prime vehicles for connections and affirmation.  The 24/7 nature of social media certainly makes it extra challenging to be a teenager – there’s no vacation from the pressure on the girls to present themselves positively online.  Dave

The New York Times
By CONOR DOUGHERTY JAN. 1, 2016

 

Over the past decade, advertisers have spent untold millions trying to turn Talia Kocar and her peers in the millennial generation into loyal customers. But on a recent afternoon in Santa Monica, Calif., in a kind of consumer torch-passing, Ms. Kocar, 25, watched a focus group of teenagers drink free Snapple and suck Doritos powder off their thumbs while answering questions about their smartphones.

Ms. Kocar works on Wishbone, a social networking application full of breezy polls about pop culture, prom dresses and other fixtures of teenage life. Users — most of them girls — post side-by-side pictures that compare rappers (Lil Wayne or Tyga?), celebrities (Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé?) and the like.

Like most social media apps, Wishbone users achieve status by amassing friends who vote with a thumb tap. There is a bonus, however, which is that twice a day, Ms. Kocar and her team send a “Daily Dozen” of the best and most popular polls to every Wishbone user. This is somewhat like being named “funniest” or “most clever” in a yearbook: Featured polls are guaranteed a lot of votes, and votes, similar to likes on Facebook, are the coin of Wishbone’s realm.
Ms. Kocar said her first attempts at market research began with trips to Starbucks stores and nail salons, where she would find Wishbone users and ask them what they did and did not like about the app. She got lots of information, but wanted more. Hence, the focus group.

Teenagers being teenagers, the room was full of angst and contradictions. They love Instagram, the photo-sharing app, but are terrified their posts will be ignored or mocked. They feel less pressure on Snapchat, the disappearing-message service, but say Snapchat can be annoying because disappearing messages make it hard to follow a continuing conversation. They do not like advertisements but also do not like to pay for things.

At one point a questioner asked the group when they were least likely to be online. “When I’m in the shower,” a girl responded.

Nobody laughed, because it was barely an exaggeration. About three-quarters of United States teenagers have access to a mobile phone, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Most go online daily and about a quarter of them use the Internet “almost constantly.”

Those numbers have created a growing advertising market and fortunes for apps like Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. This year companies are projected to spend $30 billion on in-app advertising in the United States, roughly double what they spent in 2014, according to eMarketer, a research company.

But even though these services all have the same core functions — find friends, post pictures, send messages — teenagers juggle them constantly, developing arcane customs for what to post where and ditching one app for another the moment it becomes uncool.

That churn leaves an opening for upstarts like Wishbone, which is about a year old and already has about three million monthly users. Since July it has ranked among the top 30 most-downloaded social media apps in Apple’s App Store, according to App Annie, a data and analytics company. But staying there will be tough. Mobile apps are a hit or miss business in which a handful of top players get most of the users and money.

 

Hoping to get their app in that elite few, people like Ms. Kocar pore through data and turn to focus groups for insight on how to get new users to sign up and old users to stay. Their efforts are a window into how teenage lives are documented on mobile screens.

“They have immediate social validation or lack of validation at the touch of a button,” said Michael Jones, chief executive of Science Inc., which owns Wishbone. “So if you thought that the immediate gratification generation was two generations ago, you haven’t even seen what immediate gratification looks like until you start spending time with, like, a teen on a phone.”

A Daily Rotation of Apps

One hot afternoon last summer, Leila Khan and Lucy Nemerov, two eighth graders from Palo Alto, Calif., cruised their local mall, scoring free samples at See’s Candies and dropping into Brandy Melville to look at clothes, but not buy. Lucy is an avid Wishbone user, but the app is just one among several that she and her friends rotate through each day.

To manage their identities in and obligations to this world in their pockets, they adhere to rules that have somehow been absorbed and adopted by their peers. For instance, that afternoon, since nothing particularly special happened, Lucy posted a few videos to Snapchat — including a clip of me interviewing her — but nothing on Instagram.

Why the distinction? Because Instagram is special, Leila explained. On Snapchat, where messages disappear, you can be less selective because there is a lower bar for quality. On Instagram, you have to be careful not to clog your friends’ feeds with a barrage of low-quality pictures that might annoy them.

They also regularly delete their Instagram photos so that their profiles never have more than a handful at a time. For comparison, I’m a medium-level Instagram user and have several hundred. They reacted to this information as if it were the smell of warm garbage.

“I have zero right now,” Lucy said.

“Yeah, ’cause I’m like, ‘Oh wait, I look stupid in this one,’ ” Leila said.

Some of Leila’s rules for Instagram include never posting more than one photo a week, avoiding photo filters (too fake) and hashtags (too desperate). She tries to find a timely occasion to post — such as National Watermelon Day — and is so concerned about having the right caption that she keeps a running list of ideas on her iPhone. Neither girl had any such rules for Facebook, because they hardly use it.

App makers fear this kind of juggling the way TV networks fear DVRs. Each time someone leaves one app for another, there is a chance that user will never come back. And since apps make money only when users are plugged in and absorbing ads, the number of monthly users is less important than how many users they get each day — and how long they stay.
Social media apps and messaging services — Wishbone included — tend to get an outsize portion of their ad revenue from a handful of mobile game makers and other app download ads. But Wishbone is making the not-terribly-crazy bet that as people spend more time with their phones and advertisers become comfortable with the medium, more brands and money will follow.

 

For now big advertisers remain focused on the millennial generation, who, at about 18 to 35 years old, are old enough to buy cars, homes and other big-ticket items. But an early wave is starting to think about the next group, said Erna Alfred Liousas, an analyst at Forrester Research, who said the firm had a number of financial services and media companies ask for studies on the under-17 group.

As with coffee and newspapers, the key to a successful app is to make it a daily habit. Which is why in early September, Mr. Jones of Science sat in a cinder block room staring at a computer screen full of data. He was with Benoit Vatere, head of Science’s mobile group, and Peter Pham, the company’s chief business officer, discussing the best time to send push notifications alerting Wishbone users to new polls.

Push notifications — those incessant reminders that make your phone light up and ding — are the infantry of app warfare, cracking the attention span to remind users that someone on the Internet might be talking about them. All summer Wishbone had been sending out alerts four times a day, but the three men were thinking about adding more and, now that students were back in class, trying to recalibrate around the school day.

“Can we have a friends feed at noon?” Mr. Jones asked Mr. Vatere. “It would be great to do ‘Your friends have updated.’ ”

“And you talk about it while you’re at school,” Mr. Pham added.

Every generation has its thing, and the last two have been marked by digital technology. One of the big dividing lines between Generation X and millennials was that millennials grew up with the Internet. A big difference between millennials and the next group — the postmillennials — has been smartphones.

Economic and cultural changes have an even larger influence, argues Neil Howe, an author and historian who is credited with coining the term “millennial generation.” The Great Recession and its aftermath are likely to make the postmillennial generation more risk-averse, he said. At the same time, today’s kids have absorbed lots of parental advice about online safety and bullying.

“There’s a whole new curriculum being pushed by Gen X parents and one thing it emphasizes above all is emotional intelligence and being very sensitive to the needs of others,” Mr. Howe said.

In surveys, his consulting company, LifeCourse Associates, has found that teenagers are extremely anxious about being criticized on social media and are more conscious than their parents of when an app makes them feel bad — or at least aren’t bashful about saying so.

During the recent focus group at Science, one girl said she showed Instagram ideas to at least three people before posting. Another said she deleted any post that did not garner enough likes. “I post and I just delete, because I don’t want to have, like, never mind,” she said, too ashamed to announce the precise number of likes out loud.

Wishbone sees those anxieties as an opportunity. The app doesn’t ask users to take pictures in which they look “sooo beautiful!!!!,” nor does it require having parents who vacation in Instagram-perfect locales. Users just make funny polls to talk about celebrities, makeup and bands. It is about your tastes, not your identity.

 

Rajada Victor, a 14-year-old ninth grader who lives in Los Angeles, was seated near the girl who was ashamed of her paltry likes. In a follow-up interview, she said she had grown exhausted by the frenzy for online status but was a regular on Wishbone, which she checks all the time: in class, while walking to school, on weekends.

“I like the fact that you don’t have to look a certain type of way to post,” she said. “People don’t comment rudely or anything — you’re just comparing stuff.”

Mr. Vatere can see this in the data: Wishbone users frequently describe themselves by their interests — they might like Taylor Swift, for instance — but rarely post personal photos. The app also employs an “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy by having Ms. Kocar and her editorial team choose many different polls, not just the most popular ones, for the coveted Daily Dozen of posts that all Wishbone users vote on.

“You want to create an environment where it doesn’t feel like only 1 percent of the people win,” said Eric Kuhn, Science’s head of product. “And we’ve heard that with other platforms, like as soon as you’re clearly not in that top 1 percent, you don’t want to use the app anymore.”

Some Facts and a Hunch

 

Michael Jones, chief executive of Science Inc. Science owns Wishbone, a social networking app centered on polls. “If you thought that the immediate gratification generation was two generations ago, you haven’t even seen what immediate gratification looks like until you start spending time with, like, a teen on a phone.”
He spent the next two decades tracking the migration of media to the web, to social platforms to mobile phones. Elixir became a website and, as Mr. Jones got more interested in the web than publishing, he started a software company called Userplane that was bought by AOL.

Later Mr. Jones was the chief executive of MySpace, where his job was to try to blunt the ascendance of a new competitor called Facebook. This did not go well.

He founded Science four years ago with Mr. Pham. He calls it a “start-up studio” that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Wishbone is part of Science’s mobile group — which includes several other apps — but Mr. Jones is so enamored with social media that he decided to run the group and Wishbone himself. The Science offices are just a few blocks from the beach in Santa Monica and have requisite start-up touches like exposed ceilings, copious whiteboards and employees who toil quietly while wearing Beats headphones.

Science has raised about $40 million in venture capital, most of it from Hearst Ventures. After the MySpace debacle, Mr. Jones said he initially steered clear of social media and focused on building online commerce businesses such as Dollar Shave Club, a razor subscription service, and DogVacay, a dog-boarding version of Airbnb, the online home-rental service.

“Coming out of MySpace I was like, ahhh, this is so hard — social ads is tough,” he said. “Let’s just take a pause.”

As social media moved to mobile phones, Mr. Jones figured there would be a chance to get back in. Wishbone came out of a few facts and a hunch. The facts are that people spend several hours a day on their phones, and that teenagers favor apps in which everyone gets to create content and be part of the show.

 

The hunch was that a polling app would do well. Mr. Jones knew from his AOL days that polling was among the most addictive of online features. And since successful mobile apps reward repetitive behavior, he figured polling would translate well to smartphones.

If Wishbone were almost anything besides an app, three million users would be a huge success. But apps are a brutal business, where a few gigantic hits like Facebook and YouTube make most of the money. American smartphone owners use about 27 apps per month, but spend about 80 percent of their time in five, according to a recent study by Activate, a consulting firm.

And even the winners can’t rest for long. Facebook, the biggest social network, has tried to defend its top position by buying or trying to buy rival apps as they break through. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat, but was spurned.

Four years ago the company spent $1 billion to buy Instagram, which at the time had a dozen employees and about 30 million monthly users. Today Instagram has more than 400 million, about a quarter of Facebook’s users.

Wishbone is a long way from that top tier, which is why employees show up to meetings with laptops full of statistics about what teenagers are doing. And it is why they spend time running focus groups.

Right around Thanksgiving, Mr. Jones, Mr. Pham and Mr. Vatere started rethinking their strategy for sending out push notifications. All through the summer and fall they had been limiting the number of daily alerts on the assumption that, like them, Wishbone users would be annoyed if they were interrupted by too many pings and dings. And, as one might expect when three fathers make an assumption about teenage girls, they could not have been more wrong.

“We talked to them and they’d be like, ‘Why am I not getting notified when people vote on my stuff?’ ” Mr. Jones said. “And we’d be like, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to do that ’cause we might send you, like, 50 notifications that you got 50 of your friends to vote on your card.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what I want.’ ”

“In fact,” Mr. Jones said, “they would even kind of subtly infer that if they didn’t get at least 50, it was kind of like a bad day.”

The same way Gen X measured its worth in answering machine messages, the mobile-minded teenager sees each like and mention as reassurance of an active social life. And when your phone is the default security blanket for enduring the awkwardness of walking a high school hallway, it feels nice to have a bunch of digital hellos ready with a swipe.

So just before Thanksgiving weekend, Wishbone opened the fire hose, sending out notifications for everything — every vote, every mention, everything that has to do with a user on the app. A week later they found several key metrics, like voting, had almost doubled.

One might ask if teenagers need another distraction. In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research group, half of teenagers said they watched TV while doing their homework, while 60 percent said they texted and three-quarters said they listened to music.

Those in the Wishbone focus group said they loved getting notifications but acknowledged getting lost in their phones. One girl said that it had come to the point that the only way she could finish her homework was to put her phone in another room.

“Sometimes it’s fun ’cause it’s like people are thinking about you and are like, ‘I want to show this to Jada,’ ” said Rajada Victor, the ninth grader in Los Angeles, who goes by Jada. But, she also said, she tries not to become caught up in worrying about social media.

“I’m focusing on my grades and all that stuff,” she said.

And that’s the thing about teenagers: They grow up.