Teens and Sports – Finding Balance Under Pressure

by Shadra Bruce

The scene is familiar: the crazed parent on the sideline screaming obscenities at the coaches and referees. And that’s at the toddler t-ball games! It gets worse as the kids get older, and I always wonder if these parents are this high-pressure with the (often volunteer) coaches and refs, what are they saying to their kids?! The pressure for children to do well in sports begins at an earlier age than ever, and that pressure only increases when your kids become teens.  Instead of achieving good grades to get into college, teens are focusing on sports with the hope of receiving sport scholarships. While activity is great for teens, too much pressure to succeed in sports – and too much involvement and pressure from parents – can be extremely harmful.

You may want your teen to be involved in sports for multiple reasons. Exercise is great for healthy bodies and minds, and the social aspect is a great experience in itself. Sports provide teens with a sense of achievement aside from their academics, builds their self-esteem, and gives them team building skills. Many parents are thrilled to see their kids transform into skilled athletes. What parents do not always consider is the toll athletics might be taking on their teen. Parents can help in two ways: one, be a cheerleader but not a sideline coach and two, help your teen find balance.

When the pressure of a sports team gets to be too much, it is not uncommon for grades to slip. Exhaustion leads to injuries. Some teens have resorted to enhancements like steroids to gain the desired level of performance. Where is the balance? It is your job as a parent to draw the line when it appears that what was just an extracurricular activity has become damaging. Sports are not everything and you need to convey the message of balance to your teen.

Being involved in your teen’s life can stop many problems before they start. Most schools have policies that insist athletes must maintain good grades to participate and you should support that. Even if the school or coaches do not recognize the need for academics, if your teen is being pushed too hard, you need to pull the parent card and step in.

My daughter was a cheerleader from 6th grade through her junior year of high school. While many dismiss cheerleading, it requires true athleticism and places extreme demands on the body. Kira’s cheer history contributed to more than a few of my grey hairs. Even though a lot of time was required (not to mention money) she maintained great grades. There was no reason why she should not cheer her senior year, except for the fact that she sustained injuries that were so severe her doctor advised her to pick up rugby instead. What made it worse was that her coach, rather than having her stop, told her to ice and wrap her wrists and stick it out through final competition.

Although she was – unhappy – with the situation, her father and I were pretty insistent that she take a break. A sport is not worth life-long suffering and damage, and that was where she was headed. We didn’t expect her to do nothing; we encouraged and supported her other activities including participation in theater and being a “football fox” (yeah, I know, I cringe at the name too) at her high school – a team of cheering fans who attended every game but didn’t have to toss 140 pound girls in the air on stress fractured wrists.

Sports are not the only activity available to your teen that they may enjoy and they sometimes need your help to open those doors. There are enough pressures during the teenage years and an activity that is meant for fun is not supposed to be stressful. Help your teen realize that sports are not everything, nor is winning.

Note: Kira’s wrists have since healed, thanks to the break, and she was able to return to cheerleading at Buffalo State.


How do you achieve balance with your kids when it comes to sports? Any coach horror stories? Talk to us!

A Look at Internet Predators

Getting Real With Amy Kelly was kind enough to share this two-part series on Internet Predators with us from Ken Shallcross of PC Pandora.

This is part one in a two part series, provided courtesy of Ken Shallcross from PC Pandora. Ken Shallcross is the director of public outreach and marketing for Pandora Corp. He has been with the company since 2007, and has a background in broadcast PR. He has a BA in journalism from University of RI, and is based in New York City.

As we make way into this second decade of the 21st century, parents need to wake up to the realization that the Internet is a main component of every day life, especially for our kids. But just because everyone – and I mean literally just about everyone – is using it, does not mean it’s completely safe. In fact, it is just the opposite. Just as in the real world, there are people that use the Internet to harm others. One of the two high profile dangers lurking online is Internet predators, and I have news for you – they are real!

A lot of experts in recent years have asserted that Internet predators, and the fear that is incited by the very mention of them, is blown out of proportion. Maybe it’s a reaction to the infamous Chris Hanson/Dateline NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” but many experts are trying to tell parents that our fear of Internet predators is “overblown,” and that we should really be more concerned with at-risk youth.

I have a serious issue with this notion.

I read multiple stories every week about Internet predators being busted in sting operations. I believe the news reports I see and read are true, more specifically the law enforcement officers quoted in these stories giving their take on Internet safety. Whether it’s another predator bust or an article about a local internet safety seminars, hosted by local law enforcement and FBI agents, or just simple tips and advice from the agents and officers on the front lines of the predator war, one statement always comes out in every piece: ‘you must protect your children from online predators. These guys do exist!’

Why would law enforcement (aka those we charge with keeping us safe) lie about this? Why would local cops and sheriffs want to incite an unnecessary panic? They aren’t trying to sell software or create a fear of smoke. They are simply stating their opinions and beliefs based on what they see every day at their job: an endless parade of disgusting individuals who use the Internet to solicit sex from underage children, both boys and girls alike.

I believe they are not lying. They are speaking the truth. Make no mistake, Internet predators are real – and in tomorrow’s post we will discuss recent real world situations, and what you can do to protect your child.

Teen Driving – Rite of Passage or Reckless Endangerment?

by Shadra Bruce

When I got my license, I was 15 years old. I was a straight A student. I was trustworthy and well behaved. But… the temptation to go places I shouldn’t be, or do things I shouldn’t do was more than I was able to bear at times, especially with peer pressure along for the ride. I survived my own lack of maturity – barely. I recall driving on the freeway; missing my exit, and executing a U-turn in 65-mile per hour traffic to get to the other side. I also remember driving up to the mountains for a weekend getaway with a friend (without prior parental approval) and feeling extremely tense on the curvy mountain roads on which I had no experience. Just after graduating from high school, I was hurrying to work when traffic ahead of me stopped suddenly. I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, and when I rear-ended the car in front of me, I was thrown forward and split my chin open on the steering wheel and bit through the sides of my tongue. It totaled my car and the car of the person I hit, who happened to be my driver’s ed instructor’s wife.

My best friend Kari and I with my new car, 1987

It’s no wonder, then, that while my husband worries about the kid driving, I have nightmares. He sees it as a rite of passage; I see it as a 50/50 chance of handing our teenagers an early death sentence. Ok, so it probably is not that extreme, but consider these statistics (they were enough to convince me that teens don’t need to drive nearly as much as they do):

  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death among 16 to 20 year olds, accounting for approximately 1/3 of all fatalities in this age group.
  • People ages 16-19 account for less than 7% of the driving population in the U.S. but are involved in more than 20% of reported traffic fatalities.
  • Death rates for 17-year-old drivers are nearly 4 times higher than the average for 25 – 64 year olds.

When I was in high school (in Idaho), the driving age was 14. 14!! My parents certainly didn’t let me behind the wheel at that age, and even as a rebellious teenager, I couldn’t really argue with them – I wasn’t even that great on my bike. But, when I got my license, I also got a car for my 16th birthday. (Sorry, kids, it’s not gonna happen).

Our oldest son opted not to get his driver’s license. We were living in a small village where everything is within a short walk or bike ride, so he never felt the need. By the time our daughter was a teen, we were back in Boise, and driving was almost all she thought about (except boys). Luckily, Idaho had raised the driving age since I was a teen, and when Kira got her license there, she was required to spend 50 hours in the car with us before driving on her own. New York has similar rules.

Kira has survived. She’s a good driver, and the only accident she was in was caused by a trucker who ran her off the road, totaling her car but leaving her intact. And, we’re back in our small village where everything is within walking distance. But we have two more headed toward that “rite of passage,” so I’m stocking up on the hair dye, because they both seem to think driving is something they just have to learn how to do.

My husband and I may see the privilege of driving differently in some ways, but we agree on one thing: parents should not hand over the keys to the car, nor should they pencil whip the supervised driving requirements. Before your teen driver even starts the car, have them get familiar with how to turn on the windshield wipers and the headlights and know the difference between the brake pedal and the gas. Your teen should know how to adjust the mirrors to be able to see as clearly as possible.  Make it clear that seat belts are required and that guest passengers aren’t allowed (New York passed a law limiting the number of passengers a teen driver can have, but regardless of the legality, too many passengers is a bad idea). And cell phones simply should not be allowed to be on when the car is.

Letting your teen get his or her driver’s license should implicitly require an investment of time from mom and dad to assist in the learning to drive process. Spend the required 50 hours with them. Talk to them about driving techniques. Don’t just hand them the keys and send them out for a joy ride.

Oh – and Mr. Reed? Sorry about your Honda.

Teen + Social Media = Disaster? Not Necessarily…

by Shadra Bruce

Our two older boys have not given us the typical teen experiences most parents face. Derek didn’t drive, date, or have many interests beyond math, video games, and basketball. Kyle has Down syndrome. Kira, however, more than made up for her brothers’ lack of teen issues by challenging us in a variety of ways that account for at least 50 percent of my grey hair.

When Kira (now 20 and successfully off at college except for breaks and summer) was in her early teens, she wanted to be on MySpace. We, being conscientious and involved parents, said “Hell, no!!”

At the time, social media wasn’t even a phrase that had been thoroughly coined yet, and the idea of letting our 13-year old cheerleading daughter get out there on the Internet in a venue that allowed for easy contact and even easier posting of pictures seemed like bad parenting in action – even if “everybody else” did have an account.

We eventually relented, with lots and lots of caveats, like “we get to know your password” and “you can only access it from the living room of our house with us looking over your shoulder.” Of course, being a teenager, she didn’t wait for us to get around to it. We discovered that she’d simply created an account for herself while at a friends house using an email address that she’d created that we didn’t know about detailing a level of Internet savvy we didn’t realize she had.

After the predictable “you’re grounded for the rest of your life and can never get on the Internet again” phase, we realized that our approach to teens and the Internet needed to come into the 21st century. We enforced Kira’s grounding from the Internet for a couple of weeks, during which time we all chatted about our concerns, her reasons for wanting on the Internet, and how we could come to a more amicable arrangement without feeling like we’d just handed our daughter off to the Internet predators of the world.

What we learned with that first trip through teen + social media = disaster was that you can’t keep teens from technology any more. It’s not even smart to try, because everything they do is connected. This generation is actually referred to as the “C” generation – the Connected generation – and the Internet, technology, and social media will have a gigantic influence in how they work, live, and socialize.

We had a LOT more success when we sat down with Kira and told her what we were worried about and shared stories with her about kids who had shared too much information and had become victims of predators. Instead of keeping her from the Internet, we realized we needed to help her be a savvy user who could protect herself from harm while learning to use these tools.

Parker is 11 now, and we’ll probably be setting him up with his own Facebook account very soon. We have all the same concerns we had with Kira – and Parker will only have Internet access in the living room where we can look over his shoulder, and we will know his password. But we also know a lot more about social media and understand better that it’s here to stay, and that the best thing we can do as parents is educate our children about Internet safety and online protocols rather than trying to keep them away from it.

The Last Dance – Tips for Keeping Your Teen Safe on Prom Night

Getting Real With Amy Kelly

Prom is a milestone event in every teenager’s life. It’s the last big party where everyone will be all together before parting ways for college, the military or wherever else life takes them. Both parents and teens want the night to be special, fun and above all, safe. However, teens don’t have the experience and perspective to really understand the dangers the way parents do. That’s why it’s important that parents help to protect their children by being aware and assertive on prom night.

It’s pretty obvious (though many teens think they’re being sneaky) that a lot of teens celebrate prom night by drinking alcohol. Even if your child does abstain from drinking alcohol, they can still be affected by it in the form of drunk driving. Statistics have shown that many deaths involving teenagers that occur in the months of April, May and June have a direct correlation with alcohol-related accidents. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2004, 713 youths under the age of 21 died in alcohol-related traffic accidents nationwide during prom and graduation season.

The simplest way to prevent accidents like this from occurring is by doing your part to make sure your teen doesn’t drink alcohol on prom night. You can do this by talking with your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving. Based on my observation, teens are less likely to listen to their parents if they simply “put their foot down” and demand no drinking without explaining exactly why. Explain that it is not only dangerous, but illegal and they could get into serious trouble if they attempt to drink and drive. In any case, it is usually safer all around to rent a limo for prom, but parents should find out what the driver’s policy on alcohol is and make sure he’s not one of the “cool drivers.”

Know where your teen is at all times. Have them contact you by sending a quick text message once they’re at prom and when they leave. If they are going to a prom party afterward, be sure the location is supervised by responsible adults and make sure your teen doesn’t stay out too late, since many accidents occur late at night. Set a curfew and let your teen know that you will be waiting up for them when they get home. They will be less likely to drink if they know they have to see and talk to you once they get home.

Since alcohol impairs your judgment while driving, it can also impair your judgment in all circumstances. One of the most prevalent issues surrounding prom night is sex. Because of all the stigmas attached to prom night, your teen will definitely be feeling extra pressure to have sex. Adding alcohol into the equation can cause them to make decisions that they may end up regretting later. These decisions can endanger your teen’s safety because they could cause STDs, unwanted pregnancy, rape or depression. Talk with your teen about these important issues and how alcohol and other drugs can not only ruin their night, but their life. Teenagers often need to be reminded of the possible consequences of their actions, since many of them act on impulse without thinking about the future.

Finally, give your kids the confidence and the knowledge to feel like they are making the decision for themselves. Parents sometimes wish their teens would just take their word for it, but often this isn’t enough. Help your teen understand exactly why you have the rules that you do. One effective way of doing this is by asking your teen to research the effects of alcohol online along with cases of drunk driving and alcohol-related incidences involving rape, STDs, unwanted pregnancy and regret. Have them write a review of what they read: what they learned, how it affected them, what they will do if they are offered alcohol or drugs and why they will say no. Use this as a proposition: “I’ll let you go to that prom after-party only if your research this information and write about why you will say no to alcohol and drugs.”

Your teen may see this as a drag at first, but they will learn a lot and have a foundation beneath the rules you have set. Encouraging your child to research the consequences on their own will allow them to feel like they are making these decisions independently and for more important reasons, instead of just “my parents asked me not to.” By taking these precautions, parents and teens can both look forward to a wonderful and memorable prom night.

Inheriting Teenage Stepchildren

When you marry into a family and inherit teenage stepchildren, you will encounter a different set of challenges than if you marry into a family with younger children. Older children, particularly tweens and teens, are already struggling to establish an identity of their own and establish a place within the family that is more concrete and individual. When you come along as step parent and rock the boat, it can cause a great deal of stress for the teen.

One thing to realize when becoming a step parent to a teenager is that the more you can respect him or her as an individual and the better you are able to treat him or her like a person separate from the biological parent you have married, the more likely you will be to gain his or her respect.

Talk to and treat your teen stepchild the way you wish to be treated and talked to. Teens, biological and step alike, are notorious for being experts at making adults lose their otherwise even tempers, but the better you are able to remain calm or even walk away when you have to, the easier you will be able to manage a real relationship with your teen stepchild.

You have a real opportunity with your step children to develop the relationship that will take them into adulthood. Teens struggle with so many things — peer pressure, future life, self-esteem, school — that another positive role model in their lives can be very helpful. However, most teens will initally feel threatened by your presence, so be straight with them. Let them know that you respect them and aren’t there to interfere, that you want to be a part of their lives but that you don’t expect them to think of you as Mom or Dad.

Don’t try to win their admiration by being the “cool” parent who provides alcohol or lets them get away with everything. Be clear about supporting the expectations of the household, but be there, too. Be patient and allow the relationship to build slowly. Step parents are often the “safest” people teens have to talk to — and they may turn to you for advice on everything from relationships to school problems if you give them the chance.

Listening to What Kids Don’t Say

Tiana Green

As parents we often focus entirely on what our children are saying but sometimes what they are not saying can be an even bigger indicator of where they are socially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The nonverbal cues and behavior our children exhibit can be a very accurate barometer for how they are surviving the turbulent teenage years. It is up to us as parents to pay attention to these nonverbal cues and the issues that either already exist.

Teens and Privacy

Teenagers need privacy, but how much is too much? It is our job as parents to know what our children are doing and make sure that they are not getting into trouble. It is hard to find the right balance between respecting their privacy and making sure our teens are making good decision for themselves.

It is important to respect your teen’s privacy and yet maintain your positive influence on their decisions without being overbearing. That is a tall order to fill. It is vital that you have open communication and that your teen knows that no matter what they are facing they can come to you and discuss things. It takes a lot of effort and consistency to establish this kind of relationship with your child and it will not be accomplished over night.

It is also important to realize that just as your relationship has changed in other phases of their growth and development, the same will be true as they enter their teenage years and become young adults. One thing that I have always tried to do with my kids as they grow and change is to embrace the next phase in their lives with them. I want them to know how much they are loved and cherished for who they are and everything they can become.

Everyone has good days and bad days. Parents cannot expect that their children and teens will be an exception to this rule. I always try to keep the big picture in mind. I take the good with the bad and realize how little time we really have with our children. As parents we need to do the very best we can do and cherish the ever-revolving relationships that we have with our children. We have amazing times and memories as a family, and I look forward to everything that life has in store for us!

Twilight Effect

I have often lovingly referred to it as the Twilight Effect. All the girls go crazy and everyone from younger children to grown adult and middle-aged women look forward to the new and next Twilight Saga movie premier. People, ok, mostly women, are camping out at the theater to be the first to see the new movie, and watching it in the middle of the night! People are having “Twilight Parties” to share in the obsession. I must admit that I rather enjoy the Twilight movies as much as the next person, just not to the extreme that some have become completely and totally obsessed.

Aside from the excitement and mania over the movies, there is some rather concerning behavior erupting in schools across the nation. Teens are leaving bite marks on each other as a sign of their love, devotion, and ownership of each other. I don’t know about anyone else out there but I cannot even fathom the idea of my 13-year-old daughter coming home with a bite mark anywhere on her body!! Yet these teens are wearing bite marks like a badge of honor. The teen biting craze is inclusive of all of the teen’s relationships and friendships with their peers. This is not just something that is done between teens that are dating but friendship relationships as well. You can read more on this subject at http://www.radicalparenting.com where Vanessa Van Petten reveals some of her observations from a recent visit she made to a high school.

This is the exact type of situation where parents need to have completely open lines of communication with their children. Not only is this leaving the obvious bite marks that we as parents don’t want to see, but there are some very real health risks as well. Our children need to understand the true risk and potential consequences this behavior can impose on their lives. Hopefully, we can get back to the fun of the movie and the excitement that surrounds each new premiere and leave the rest in the fantasy world of vampires and the movies!

Disrespectful Stepchildren

by Shadra Bruce

There are certain parts of step parenting that do not come into the light as often as they probably should.  While most blended families have struggles or issues – and some blended families have more than their share of additional stresses – it’s not often that people talk about what happens when step mom or step dad is being mistreated or manipulated.  You may find it very difficult to tell the man or woman you love that his or her child is causing you pain or has a part of their personality that is sometimes only visible to you.  While I always, through my articles and in my life, advocate giving the step child the benefit of the doubt, what I may not be stating clearly enough (and therefore will do so now) is that no matter what the child has experienced at the hands of divorce, you, as the step parent, deserve to be treated with respect.

I have been lucky, for the most part, in my step parenting experience;my step kids have been respectful and have allowed me a large role in their lives.  I have seen, however, both within my own family and within other blended families, the divisiveness that occurs when a step child manipulates a situation.

Parents believe the best about their children – how else would we learn to tolerate the terrible twos, the even-worse threes, and the challenges of raising teenagers?  We see the best in our kids, and we give them the benefit of the doubt.  We sometimes even go so far as to make excuses for them or their behavior.  We do it out of love.

There are times, though, when a step child discovers a way to make life miserable for the step parent.  This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.