Making the most of snow days

Our nation seems to be in the grips of the Polar Vortex this year and schools are continuing to close due to weather. Chicago schools have missed a good 5-6 days at this point, and even here in Houston, we’re on our second missed day due to cold temps and ice.

As parents, you may be worried about the school days your children are missing, but worry not; it all manages to come out even in the end. Teachers adjust lesson plans, usually cutting out an activity or two that could have been cut anyway. So don’t worry, content will be covered. The bigger question is what you can do, as parents, to help your children make the most of these days. Here are some suggestions that provide a balance of fun and responsibility:

  1. Let your kids sleep in, make hot cocoa, and watch movies. If you have snow, get them out there building snowmen and walloping each other with snowballs. That’s what these days are all about.
  2. Once they’ve expended some energy having fun, talk to them about what they can do now to make their lives easier tomorrow at school. Is there a paper they can work on, a novel to read for English class, a project they can complete?
  3. Introduce them to a great book and encourage them to snuggle up on the couch and read it. Let them see you reading, as well!
  4. If the weather clears during the course of the day and you are able to get out, pop into a museum or aquarium or just visit the local library. Hands-on learning is the best kind.
  5. Finish the day with some family time, popcorn and a movie or a game.

Make inclement weather days something your kids will always remember fondly. And teach them now that when you receive an unexpected blessing, you should make the most of it.

What your kids watch = what your kids think

Recently, I followed an argument on Facebook regarding how closely we should monitor what our children watch on TV. Commenters fell on two distinct sides: 1) those who felt that teenagers are exposed to everything anyway, so what they watch on TV doesn’t really matter as long as parents turn shows into teachable moments and 2) those who felt that media has a tremendous influence on our kids and that we should keep them away from trash as much as possible.

It really made me think. And I’m still thinking.

Here’s what’s rolling around in my brain: Yes, kids are exposed to everything out there. They really are. And they are most heavily influenced by their peers, and parents need to know that. So if you really want to have an impact on your kids and try to steer them in the right direction, start by steering them towards classes, organizations, and activities where they will meet kids who will be decent influences. Now, if this makes sense to you, if you understand that the people who surround your kids have great power to influence them in any number of ways, then it follows that the people who surround your kids in the media-drenched society in which they live also have tremendous influence on them. Make no mistake about it – they are being influenced by their celebrity icons and the music and TV shows their icons produce.

Think about how our interactions with one another have changed since the inception of reality TV and all of its glorification of backstabbing, dumbed down and profanity-filled speech, disrespect, promiscuity, drunkenness, disloyalty, and general low brow behavior. The media found the lowest of the low, shined a light on them, made them into stars, and now years later, our society is convinced that that is the way regular people act. Our society has devolved to the point in which class is a thing of the past. If you ever question media’s influence on a society, just look at what’s happened to us since shows like Jerry Springer, Jersey Shore, and Keeping up With the Kardashians debuted. If you really want to be convinced, watch some retro TV and notice how people dressed, talked to each other, and dealt with conflict, and ask yourself which generation was more civilized. Oh yeah, we’ve devolved.

So don’t kid yourself. Your kids are being influenced by the media. Now it’s up to you to determine what standard you want to set in your own home. I hear parents say that they can’t control what their kids watch on TV, and I’m guessing that this is because they’re dealing with multiple TVs in various rooms of the house. An easy way to get a handle on this is to have one TV in a family room, no individual TVs in the kids’ rooms. Or compromise and have cable on the family TV and DVD players hooked up to the kids’ TVs so that they can watch movies in their rooms. Parental controls are a godsend to filter out R-rated movies when you’re not home,and when you are, you can use your best judgment as to whether a movie is appropriate for your children.

Sure, your kids will still find ways to watch movies or TV shows you’ve banned or listen to gangster rap you hate, usually when you’re not around to monitor them, but at least they’ll get the clear message that you don’t approve. Out of respect for you, they will distinguish between appropriate and not-so-much, and this will make them think about and maybe even question their choices.

Remember, you’re their parents, not their buddies. They want you to set boundaries and standards. They should not feel comfortable watching inappropriate movies with you or blasting profanity-laden music in your house. You might not be able to control what they do when they’re not with you, but you should be dang sure they understand and respect your wishes when they are.


One small change can make all the difference

The great thing about January is that despite freezing cold temperatures and a significant backslide in “good will toward men,” this month also brings with it a fresh start. A new year is ahead of us, and with it, we see new possibilities and opportunities for change. We are optimistic that 12 months from now, we will look back on this year with fondness.

I appreciate this aspect of January. In the past, I have created a list for the upcoming year of all that I hope to accomplish. That list has included everything from taking a dance class to repairing a damaged relationship, and everything in between. The relationship is the one I want to focus on today, as I’m fairly confident that everyone out there sees room for improvement in at least one relationship in their lives. For many of you, we are speaking specifically about your relationships with your teenagers.

Teenagers are difficult; there’s no getting around that. They are moody and unbalanced, sometimes surprising you with their maturity, sometimes confounding you with their childishness. The young people in your household who want to experiment with drugs and sex are the same ones who want to watch cartoons and endless YouTube videos of Stupid Cat Tricks. They are an enigma, seemingly impossible to understand, let alone live with.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You CAN have a pleasant home environment. You CAN enjoy spending time with your teenagers. You CAN get them to help with chores, do their homework, and wake up for school on their own. It comes from changing one small thing, assessing the impact, and then changing another, constantly tweaking and adjusting until you find a balance you can live with. There is no time like the present to make that change. It doesn’t have to be profound or prodigious or time consuming or labor intensive. Just change one small thing, and see what happens.

What, you ask, qualifies as a “small thing”? Well, you might start with your tone of voice. Really monitor how you talk when you ask your children to do something. Pay attention to what frustration sounds like when you speak. Ask yourself if you need to yell, or if speaking calmly would get the point across just as effectively, if not more so. Don’t worry about changing anything else. Just change your tone and monitor the results.

Or change the hastiness with which you say yes or no to a request. Make your “one small thing” be taking an extra minute to think before replying. That’s it. That’s all. Then monitor the results.

Parenting is difficult, no doubt, but it’s not impossible, and it certainly doesn’t need to be trying and exhausting, at least most of the time. Just ask yourself, what is one small thing that I can do differently? Then put that action into place and see what happens.