Sewing with My Daughter

I feel very lucky to have two kids with a diverse range of interests. This means that while one will like to hike, the other might want to stay at home and find something to do. This can lead to me brainstorming on how to help them fill their time. As a mother, I feel a bit of a duty to introduce them to the finer things in life. I want them to grow up to be well rounded adults who know how to fill their time. You never know when a hobby will lead to a money-making venture as well.

That’s why I bought my teenage daughter a sewing machine for Christmas. Found a good one for a beginner at The inspiration came to me because I wanted to see her do something unique with her time. I feel like she’s interested in fashion and she can learn to sew some basic things for herself. It’s not because I’m a cheap mom. I’ve always budgeted enough for their clothing needs. I let her splurge on brands. However, I want her to learn the joy of creation.

My teenage daughter just let the box sit for a while. She was very polite when she received the gift though. For me, that was one step in the right direction of helping her learn sewing for beginners. It wasn’t until Halloween came around the next year that she really starting moaning about the selection in the stores. She either found the costumes too boring or too expensive.

Being the problem solver that I am, I suggested that we could sew a costume together. I know she would need some guidance, so I decided to set aside some time to help her. She wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, so we settled on a lot of vinyl costuming that would fit just right. I know, I’m a bold person, but I have a lot of experience sewing, so I knew I could do it. Even if she just watched me, it would be a great way to get her into fittings and just the general roll of things.

We went to the fabric store together, and that was a fun time. She liked the fact that I was willing to run with her risqué vision. I did end up doing a lot of the work and research. However, she still found the patterns that she wanted, so it was a joint effort. We slaved away for a while in our lab. There were plenty of coffees and milkshakes to be had.

Eventually, we came up with enough for her to feel like she was in a costume. She had CA on her chest, so it was a little bit of a hint for those who would choose to guess. All in all, she was happy with the result and I was happy to get her introduced to her machine and the mechanics of it a bit more. I’m guessing that she’ll be pulling it out more often in the future too.


I like kids who take the initiative. It might be about joining a club, inviting friends over, starting a new hobby or project, or just about anything that expresses their personalities in action. Kids who hang back and only follow parental orders never develop independence. They are too passive and not self-reliant enough. If they don’t do this on their own, you have to encourage them with special rewards. You have to provide any motivation that isn’t there.

With my son, there is plenty of that to go around. He went out and bought a new bike with his own money. He had saved for weeks and months using money earned from cutting the grass, raking the leaves, cleaning the garage, scrubbing the porch, and washing the car. There was a job he would turn down. I knew something was afoot. He had been talking about a new bike for a while, and it pleased me no end that he didn’t just expect me to give it to him as when he was a small boy. Most of his friends wither delivered papers or performed tasks for the neighbors like walking their dogs. He took that as a good example and quickly jumped on board. I am very proud of him. Don’t you wish all kinds took this kind of initiative? It makes for stronger adults. Kids now are too coddled and don’t know how to make their way in the world.

It’s a great used bike with plenty of miles left on the tires. Most of the parts are working and all it needs is a little oil. It is comfortable except for the seat so I decided to replace the bike saddle with a better one that I found here. They are easy to find at bike stores or junkyards and we made it our special projects to refurbish it. We cleaned the leather and applied a special stain just for this purpose. He had worked so hard to get the bike that I wanted to make sure it was a comfortable ride. We learned how to attach and adjust the seat with a few tools in the garage, and now my son could alter it anyway he wanted after a few test rides.

I love these mom and me projects and so does my son. It is part of why he is an initiator. He wants to please and involve me. It is the best way I know to bond with him since I don’t play his kind of sports or like to watch his preferred video games. Somehow in his daily life I used to get lost in the shuffle. It just so happens that he found the solution on his own. He later confessed that he had hoped I would help him repair and restore the bike. I could also help him paint or at least suggest some nice colors. It was truly a labor of mother-son love.

Requests and Responsibilities

I am a counselor so I have to be flexible and listen to all sides of a story. You have to use your instincts to trust what people say. When it comes to your own kids you have an advantage. You already know their point of view. This became important when there was a big family discussion/argument over putting in a pool. The kids were adamant about needing one for the summer and they would invite friends and family, not to mention neighbors to indulge. It would be the center of their social life, not that they didn’t already have one. I understood. Water recreation is really fun for kids and in our area, few families had pools, above ground or otherwise. So the kids had to get a ride to the community center and they complained that the pool had too much chlorine and that it was often too crowded. They wanted to be at home where they could rest on lounge chairs or have a snack.

I listened attentively and decided to concede. They could use a new form of recreation to get them away from video games. It is a positive that they wanted to have guests. Kids need social outlets and to learn to get along. I agreed, however, that it would be an above ground pool as I felt it was safer, not to mention cheaper to install. They come in large sizes and I would pick one that would be suitable for our size yard. I wanted lots of kids to be able to swim at the same time. I might add a heater if I thought they would use it year round and of course we would need a vacuum to maintain cleanliness. I laid out my rules. Safety was a priority. They also had to be willing to vacuum the pool once a week so I would not be the one getting rid of debris and leaves. I would take care of the chemicals for the water and make sure they were non-toxic, but still did their job. So everyone would take part in the pool effort which would make it that much more enjoyable. It was a source of fun and also responsibility. Never, as a parent, overlook possibilities to assign chores. Even at a young age, kids can do many things and it isn’t difficult to vacuum a pool. The device isn’t heavy and it works quickly, making it a snap job.

When the pool was in, everything proceeded as planned. The kids used the pool enough to justify the expense. They were well behaved, obeyed the rules, and took care of maintenance. Their little friends were only too willing to help. They actually thought it was fun. I thought it was marvelous. I had inaugurated an effective pool system.

Don’t Just Give. Make Them Earn.

Brand names in designer clothing, handbags, shoes, and watches are part of the celebrity culture. It matters to buyers who appears in the ads. My kids are like others in wanting only the right kind of sneakers, for example. They won’t settle for anything less, no matter the price. All of a sudden they are into Invicta watches which they see online and constantly on the TV. You could say that they have their hearts set on getting one—and it would of course be from me. Fortunately, they come in all price ranges, some rather modest. I am not going to get each kid a $500 watch. Some run up to a thousand or more due to the special features like water resistance to 300 feet. Even at the lower price range, the Swiss watch is finely crafted and the perfect accessory for anyone who wants function and style. Not that my kids understand this: they haven’t read any reviews of invicta watches, they just go with the name because they’ve seen it posted regularly on someone’s Instagram account. But it is nice to know that a budget watch will be durable and last quite a while.

Although I could get two watches for a couple hundred dollars, I want the kids to earn them by doing household chores. I will assign a dollar value to each task and when they reach the target amount-the cost of the watch—they will get their prize. I am not going to just hand it over. I want to impart a lesson here about entitlement and how a child should merit something special. Sure, you can give the watch for a birthday present any time, but that will not solve my problem of their brand obsession.

So everyone got a chore list and we designated a weekend to do them all at once. At the end of the time period, we would tally the job value and see who gets a watch. There would be a little competition going on to be sure. I could count on their dedication and commitment to this game knowing how much they wanted an Invicta watch. Oh, how I wish they would stop looking at advertisements. But they also get wind of everything they want from other kids in school. This practice is never going to stop whether it pertains to sneakers, watches, jackets, backpacks, or skates.

The weekend chore session went well as expected. The kids knocked themselves to complete their tasks quickly so they could go on to others. They said they wanted to do extra work to be sure to reach their target mark. I got a kick out of this attitude. By Sunday afternoon, the event was over and lo and behold, both kids had earned a watch. It was celebration time and we went out for ice cream. Each kid selected a watch they liked within a certain price range. I had to okay it of course. It would take a few days to have them delivered. Everyone was happy.

Impromptu Camping Trip

The kids have been getting increasingly withdrawn into their phone screens (and now every parent, even of tweens are nodding their heads in agreement and understanding) and my husband and I decided we had to draw a line somewhere this summer. That line was last week. We packed up the RV and drove it 500 miles to a campsite out in the middle of nothing.

We’re mean parents. We picked it based on lack of coverage in our network.

Now, that might seem dangerous, except it isn’t—the park has several land lines at various points around the campsite, so we can still get in touch with reality. We also pack long range walkie-talkies if anyone decides to go exploring. At any rate, the boys were quite miffed when they realized there was no snapchatting or texting in their near future. Not a whole lot they could do about it, though.

The first night at the campsite they were a bit sullen. Likely because we had made their phones into fancy paperweights for the next week. The husband and I were unperturbed. Over dinner, the two of us kept talking about how great it was that nobody from work could reach us (technically that’s not true, my husband’s assistant absolutely had the number to the ranger station, but unless there was an emergency, the boys were never going to find out about that) and how free it felt to be away from all of the stuff that’s been weighing on us. It was partially a sell for the boys to see that we feel the same way they do about being reachable, but that sometimes it can be a burden, too. Of course, it was a believable sell because it is at least partially true. There is something to be said for unplugging every once in a while. They didn’t agree with us, but we noticed they didn’t disagree, either.

The second day, we had them up early to go fishing. There was actually some good natured family teasing and interaction going on. The boys seemed much more relaxed. Could it be that our devious little plan had started to work? By dinner, we certainly thought so. We sat around the picnic table included in our campsite and talked until long after most of the people around us turned in for the night. We plugged in our trusty ceramic heater, one of those camping essentials we’ve learned the hard way to always have onboard the RV, to keep us all warm when the night turned chilly so that we could continue talking. The boys, perhaps emboldened by the semi-darkness and the cozy warmth, started to open up. We heard stories about problems with their teammates; they asked questions about girls, college, and their futures. In other words, we found out just why they’ve been so lost in their phones—things have been tough for them and they have been both commiserating with their friends and escaping into the mind-numbing world of apps. We were able to answer questions, address concerns, and simply listen to the things that are important to them with no distractions on either side. I didn’t realize how much we all needed that.

By the last day, the boys were in good spirits and seemed remarkably well rested. It made packing up the RV and leaving the campsite a little sad. One glorious thing happened on the drive home, however. My phone pinged to let me know we were back on the grid, and I turned around to let the boys know. They looked at each other, smiled, and my youngest said, “So?” They kept playing cards together, their phones untouched.

Even if you can’t relocate your kids to the mountains for a week to separate them from their friends and phones long enough to get them to open up, you can try setting aside time every night—I recommend a half hour or so after dinner, you don’t want it to be so long that they are frustrated with you—to give them the opportunity to come to you and talk about whatever is on their mind. And if you’re expecting them to put down their phones, you need to do it to. Show them that you feel their time and feelings are valued by giving them your complete attention. It can make a huge difference to your teenager!


The Things We Do

I hate to see budget cuts affect good people who make a clear contribution. At my school, some of these cuts are jeopardizing the school nurse and her ability to function optimally. For example, she needed an otoscope to examine the ears and had to buy one out of her own pocket. It shouldn’t have to be that way. The school should be able to afford to replace it. They questioned the need for it at all.

An otoscope is a medical device with which one can check the ears and they are regularly used by health care providers to help detect problems that are revealed in this area. A school nurse definitely needs such a diagnostic tool. She uses it all the time to view the ear canal and tympanic membrane or eardrum. This is important because the eardrum is the dividing border that separates the external ear canal from the middle ear and many conditions can be detected here. Plus, she would be able to spot excess ear wax, any pus, skin edema, a foreign object, or signs of disease. The school’s judgment was clearly wrong.

So what is this thing anyway? It is a handle and a head basically, the head being the light source and a low-power magnifying lens (about 3.00x Mag). The front end of the otoscope has an attachment for an ear specula, a disposable plastic piece. So after the nurse straightens the ear canal, she inserts the ear speculum into the external ear carefully to avoid injury. As she looks through the lens, she can spot problems. It is a basic aspect of her medical examination on students who complain of earaches. She can attach a device to remove earwax or use a pneumatic otoscope to push air into the canal to see the mobility of the eardrum. This adds to the cost of course. Because it was her own expense, she bought the portable and not wall-mounted model. It is a battery-operated instrument that is rechargeable. With a nasal speculum you can look at the patient’s inner nose and without it the upper throat.

Since we are getting into detail here, the type of gadget she bought suitable for a school medical room is monocular. You can a two-dimensional view of the contents of the ear canal and a glimpse of the eardrum and its status. You need more depth perception to do a proper job in a doctor’s office, for example, but this means a different type of device that requires more training and skill. The nurse will have to make do with this one-eyed construction. She says it is sufficient for her needs. She isn’t worried about misdiagnosis or she would come up with the money for a binocular microscope attachment.

As I understand it, she got a set that included an otoscope, a convertible rechargeable handle, a halogen lamp, and a set of reusable polypropylene pneumatic, operating, and consulting specula. The long-lasting lamp shows true tissue color and the fiber-optic light offers cool illumination. The open system makes the otoscope convenient to use during procedures, if the nurse were to perform any, while the rotatable lens and specula ensure ease of use. She clearly didn’t spare any expense on her choice of medical device.

Creating a Teen Space

Relating to teens has been given a lot of ink over the years–more advice than you can imagine or even want. If you have the inkling of a communication problem, it is not a waste of time to peruse some of this material. I, for one, belief in close contact and lots of coordinated activities. You don’t need a stringent schedule as long as what you plan is binding. Families bond over little things that take place in the basement from watching movies and TV to doing crafts. While parents are not always welcome, as kids want their own space, there are times when it just feels right for all parties concerned.

The basement is an ideal place for regular family congregation. You don’t have to constantly labor to keep it neat and it can house all kinds of games and supplies. Be sure to have some cabinets or closets built conveniently along a free wall. You want your teens to enjoy what they do and aspire to return often. Sports if a good way to engender compliance with a family night in. With a few comfy sofas and squishy chairs, you can convert your netherworld into a great hangout.

Most basements are a bit dank and some have been known to show mildew and mold. There might be a need for some basic do-it-yourself remodeling. You can secure cracks in windows and doors, repair walls and ceilings, and give the place a good overhaul visually with moisture-proof paint. The floor, if it is cold concrete, can be adorned with laminate or carpeting, both water resistant. The whole gang can get in on the job and enjoy the fruits of communal labor.

While you are at the hardware store getting supplies, let me give you a piece of advice. It is about something not at all obvious. A good dehumidifier can add comfort during summer to combat moisture while a humidifier, the companion appliance, can impart moisture to dry winter air. This duo should be on your list, preferably a dehumidifier with a 70-pint capacity that will suit an average basement space.

These units need not be a mystery. They are easy to select from available sizes, tote home, install, and enjoy. Air quality changes and you can keep ahead of it by alternating your appliances. They are large enough to handle the capacity of a good size basement, but small enough to be portable and use elsewhre. They can run for hours on one tank to get that downstairs space ready for recreational fun. Those who own them are adamant about their use. Once in place, you will never want to do without them.

Top-rated items can be purchased in specialty stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s or on line. Prices are comparable but research on the Internet may yield the best deal. Your part of the country may experience more humidity than dryness, and you can narrow down your choices. If you need both, the outlay will be well spent.

Teaching Responsibility

Today I wanted to talk about setting our kids up for success. While you may enjoy doing things for your children and feel that this is an expression of love for them, you are doing them a disservice if you do not allow them to spread their wings and allow them to take more responsibility for their things and their lives. You had to potty-train them and teach them to tie their shoes, so please don’t stop when it comes to things like financial literacy or simple meal preparations. Teaching children skills like these will help them feel more independent and make living on their own less stressful, so they can get a great head start on their adult lives.

The closer my teenagers get to college, the more life-skills we are passing on to them. My husband and I each spend one weekend afternoon a month with our kids as “one on two” time. We are sure to put aside all distractions and pencil it into our busy schedules to do something with them. This way, they can see that we value time with them and that they matter. Sometimes it’s something they enjoy doing, like going on a hike. Sometimes they aren’t big fans of what we are going to do, especially when it is boring stuff like balancing a checkbook, doing laundry, or when Dad is imparting do-it-yourself wisdom. No matter what we are doing, we are imparting basic life skills they will need when they go away to college or beyond, we feel that this is important stuff that we are passing on; we want our kids to know how to handle things like changing the oil in a car before they even drive one.

We understand that there are some lessons that the kids will be more interested in learning. For example, when we went on the hike they enjoyed so much, I taught them how to follow a map and use a compass. We packed a first aid kit to carry along, and they were able to ask questions about any of the items in the kit and how to use them. I stressed the importance of letting someone know where we were going to be and why, and to carry ID with them, just in case they got lost or if there was another emergency. We also ran into a Park Ranger, who talked to the kids about paying attention to warning signs and the weather. She told them about various rescues that she has been a part of because people failed to heed warnings, and the toll it takes on her and the rest of the Park Services staff.

Today they are having one of those skill-building days. They’re learning how to add air to their bicycle tires as well as the tires on my SUV using the air compressor we have out in the garage. They are going to learn how to find out what the recommended air pressure is for the tires they’re using, how operate the compressor safely, how to use a pressure gauge, and how to inflate the tires properly using an air compressor. Also, how to clean everything up when they are done. They are also going to learn how to use a patch kit to repair a flat. I wish my parents had done this for me because the only thing I knew was how to call roadside assistance, and that was before everyone carried a cell phone everywhere! In a couple of weeks, one of the tires on my car is going to “mysteriously” go flat and I’ll ask whichever one of the kids are home to help me fix it.

At the end of the day, they will have spent quality time with their father, they will have been given some basic skills that might come in handy one day. These afternoons don’t have to be anything elaborate, and you may find that working them into your schedule is a very rewarding experience for you and your child.

Getting Teenagers To Open Up to You


As the mother of two teenagers, no one has to tell me that it’s really hard to get teenagers to open up to you. There are plenty of reasons for that and plenty of solutions to that. Some parents will just accept it as a fact of life. You’ll be with your mom friends all the time and they’ll talk about how it’s great when the kids get older and they don’t want to have anything to do with you. They’ll say it in a self-deprecating tone that indicates that they want sympathy and reassurance, since they’re trying to cope with the fact that they feel disconnected from their children, and they’re worried about what’s happening with them.

I promise that there are ways of getting your teenagers to actually connect with you. One of the most important things that you can do for your teenager under those circumstances is to make him or her feel safe. Teenagers are trying to establish their own identities away from their parents. One of the defining characteristics of adolescence is the fact that it’s about trying to find one’s place in the world. Teenagers sometimes regard their parents as a threat in that regard. Parents do often try to mold their children into a particular image, and teens sometimes rebel about the image that their parents tried to set for them earlier in their lives.

As parents, we’re judgmental. We have a certain idea of how we want our teens to be, and we want to encourage them to develop in a particular direction. We also want to protect them from all the hardships that are out there, and we want them to avoid making some of the same mistakes that we made when we were that age. The thing is, some of those mistakes are normal and necessary for developing minds.

Teenagers are capable of making decisions that will haunt them throughout the rest of their lives. However, many of the poor decisions that they make at this stage of their lives really aren’t going to affect them forever. It is important for parents to learn the difference. Knowing the distinction between the normal mistakes that teenagers make and the tragic mistakes that some teenagers will make is crucial if parents are going to learn to trust their teens.

However, even if your teen is going down a very difficult road, it is important for them to know that they can trust you. You need to be able to show them that you are going to give a response that is proportionate to what actually happened. Your teen needs to feel that he or she is in a safe place during your dialogues with one another. Establishing that sort of bond is going to take time, but once you have that bond, it really will make all the difference in terms of your relationship with one another.

Do You Understand Your Teen?


As a counselor, I have run into plenty of situations in which teenagers had perfectly good reasons not to open up to their parents. The cliche of the teenager refusing to talk to his or her perfectly reasonable parent simply doesn’t always apply. Some parents are emotionally or physically abusive. Other parents may not know that they are being emotionally abusive because their behavior is socially sanctioned, but they are still creating a threatening environment for their teens, which is why their teens understandably won’t open up to them.

Parents who are unknowingly hurting their kids may not be doing it out of anything other than ignorance. Parents who have done abusive things can certainly get better, and they can sometimes repair their relationships with their kids. However, they need to understand that what they were doing was wrong, and they need to be self-aware enough in order to change it in the first place. Even something as simple as trivializing your teen’s problems on a regular basis can create a threatening environment.

If you are a parent who really does believe that teen problems are trivial and the feelings that they have are trivial, then you need a certain degree of self-reflection or your relationship with your teens is always going to be fraught with difficulty. You need to remember the way these feelings felt when you were their age, if that’s possible for you. You should also try to put your own problems in perspective. Adults can have very difficult problems, but there are certainly people elsewhere in the world who have it worse, and listening to them trivializing your problems isn’t going to cause you to open up to them.

The problem may be on your teen’s end. The problem may also be on your end. Understanding the difference is crucial, since you really might need to evaluate your own behavior in a more honest way. Parents who are able to be self-critical in addition to critical of their children will be that much more likely to successfully relate to them.

The Power of Active Listening

The Power of Active Listening

Few techniques have been more effective to me as a mother and a counselor than active listening. It is a deceptively simply technique that has nonetheless managed to work miracles. Essentially, it’s a communication technique that signals to the listener just how much you’re actually hearing what he or she is saying. You subtly parrot back what they’re saying to you as a way of getting them to elaborate when you do active listening.

For one thing, when you do active listening, you’re doing something other than advertising your opinion to your teens. They’re afraid of their parents preaching at them, since they’re so preoccupied with forming their own identities. Teenagers are tired of living under the authority of their parents, since they’ve at least matured to the point where it is easier for them to make their own choices. Teenagers are in an awkward state where their bodies and minds are more mature than those of children, but still not mature enough for adult decisions and adult lifestyles.

Navigating the difficulties of the teen years is often just as difficult from the outside as it is from the inside. Parents were all teenagers once. We remember what it was like. Actually being able to communicate our experiences to teens and helping them through the difficult parts of their lives can make a huge difference, but they need to be able to trust us first and they need to know that we’re actually going to take their feelings seriously.

As adults, we do often have a difficult time taking the dilemmas and problems of teenagers seriously. We went through all of these same problems ourselves and we survived them. They can often seem trivial compared to what we have to cope with today. We have the perspective to be able to look back and decide which parts of our adolescence were really important and which ones weren’t. Teenagers are still in the throes of those dilemmas, and they just aren’t able to do so.

However, it is still your job as the parent to be able to manage the disconnect that the two of you have in terms of your experiences. One of the worst things you can say to your teen in these sorts of situations is to ‘just get over it.’ Teenagers are already burdened by cultural stereotypes that label them as needlessly angst-ridden. They’re used to hearing the unoriginal musings of the adults around them on how their problems aren’t important and they should just get over everything in spite of the fact that they lack the perspective in order to do so.

When you do active listening, you are signalling to your teens that their problems do matter. You are taking their feelings seriously. You are there for them, and you aren’t just paying lip service to the idea that they can always talk to you. Active listening allows parents to communicate many different things to their teens all at the same time, which is why counselors use it and which is why concerned parents can benefit from it just as readily.

The Hormonal Teenager Myth

People talking about the raging hormones of teens is so prevalent that few people even decide to look around and decide whether or not this idea is even true. It is true that teens experience elevated hormonal levels for the sake of the growth process. However, the extent to which this translates into their behavior is significantly more controversial.

There are few records of the concept of a hormonal teenager from history, since it seems to be a very recent idea. The entire concept of adolescence itself only dates back to the very early twentieth century. Humanity hasn’t really been going through this life stage very long, and we are still ironing out the bugs and trying to understand it.

Teenagers often make poor decisions because their brains have not finished developing, especially the parts of their brains that control decisions. It is true that this aspect of their development is biological, and there is little that parents can do about it other than trying to educate our teens. However, dismissing a good portion of their behavior as ‘hormonal’ does them a disservice, especially because it is probably false.

Similar accusations have been made against women of all ages, and they were always wrong. In many cases, the women in question were simply dissatisfied with their lot in life and acting out. Your teen is frustrated with having to live under your authority, and is acting out in order to achieve some measure of control and independence.

Naturally, teenagers are not going to organize and start a new movement like women and other oppressed groups did. They are being managed, but ideally, they are not being controlled. However, many of them do not have the perspective to truly know the difference. This is ignorance, but it is ignorance related to a lack of experience, and not to hormones.

Teens are certainly not going to respond well to accusations of being hormonal. This idea probably has little biological merit, and parents should be sure to know when they are using it to completely dismiss the feelings of their kids. Feelings are always valid. The way they are expressed may not be, but that is a problem to address and not dismiss because it is supposedly related to hormones.

Teenagers and Moral Development

There’s been a lot of discussion on the intellectual development of teenagers. Plenty of people are concerned with whether or not certain activities promote intellectual development. They want to make sure that teenagers are not permanently stunting their brain growth by drinking or by doing other activities. However, the moral development of teenagers doesn’t tend to get anywhere near as much focus. The processes are related, but they are not synonymous, and creating people of character is extremely important for the functioning of any society.

We do live in a time when brains are all-important. Teenagers face more pressure than ever when it comes to getting into a good college and getting merit scholarships or financial aid. College costs just keep on rising, and many parents would not even be able to afford college if their teens were not good enough students. In the rush to get our kids ready for college, a lot of parents are forgetting how important life will be after college. College doesn’t last for very long. Teenagers are also learning all the worst lessons from the competitive rush to get into the best college possible.

Liberal parents are often shocked at the extent to which society is often based on cutthroat competition, and the fact that the capitalist system in general tends to outright encourage this sort of behavior. It should be noted that many capitalists learn this sort of behavior when they are still in their teen years. They learn that it’s more important to beat the system than it is to use it for the greater good. Our academic system rewards cheaters who are able to get away with it largely because it doesn’t effectively test teens on the actual knowledge that they have accumulated. The credentials are all that matters, and those are relatively easy to fake or falsify.

Finding a way to stop your teen from succumbing to this sort of behavior can seem like a very daunting task, and it is. Just repeating platitudes about how cheating is wrong isn’t going to help them, and it certainly isn’t going to do anything other than teach them that cheating is wrong. Moral development in general is important. However, encouraging moral development is no easy task, so it is understandable that many parents never quite work it into their list of tasks with their teens.

I’ve found that volunteer work honestly can help. Teens need to be able to really get a sense of the people in society who are less fortunate than them. They need to have their eyes opened in more ways than one. Teenagers live extremely sheltered existences, and with good reason. We want to protect them, giving them a solid basis from which they can explore the world. However, teenagers still need to get their comfortable worldview shaken up somewhat if they are going to learn anything in the way of moral development.

Teenagers who do something dramatic, like volunteer in developing countries, will often more or less come back as changed individuals. However, parents don’t have to do anything that dramatic in order to make sure that their teens are getting exposed to the way the world really is. Parents who spend a lot of time talking to their teens about global concerns will stand a better chance of making them realize the way the world really is outside of their windows. Discussing current events can also be something of a family bonding exercise.

It should also be noted that even volunteering at a homeless shelter or a nursing home can make all the difference for sheltered teens. They can see what it’s like for people who are truly lacking in privilege. They will also be that much more resistant to the conservative idea that people who lack privilege somehow brought it on themselves. Life is not a classroom, and teens need to learn that sooner rather than later.