Category Archives: Children

Back to School

Today is the first day of school. My kids are off to second grade and fifth grade (middle school!).

Pardon me while I celebrate the end of summer.

(I’m a work-at-home dad. Summer is not so easy.)

School can always be kind of crazy making. I’m 37, I’ve been out of school for… a long time, and I still have recurring nightmares about getting lost in school, unable to find my classes or remember my schedule.

This prayer seems apt:

Even when there’s not much to be nervous about—my kids have it pretty easy—they’re still nervous.

Just looking at this photo from the superintendent, the welcome wagon at high school—especially the high fives—makes me a little nervous. It’s a welcoming gesture, sure, but it feels like window dressing for the high school experience. When it comes to finding a seat in the cafeteria or sitting next to someone on the bus or just walking down the halls, will those smiles and high fives still be there?

Honestly, I feel a little bit of relief that I don’t have to deal with any of it, that the kids are off and the house is quiet again. They’re as prepared as they’re going to be, and they’ll have to face it themselves.

Godspeed.

Black Lives Matter Rally in Minneapolis

Today my family went to the Million Artist Movement rally/protest in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of #BlackLivesMatter response to the continuing racial injustice in cases like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.

It’s interesting. I’ve never really protested before. I’ve been to a few peace protests, mostly in response to 9/11 and the continuing war in Iraq, but I was more there as a journalist/observer than a participant.

Today I was here first and foremost as a dad. Secondly as a protestor myself.

It’s been kind of a bizarre week talking about these cases with our kids.

How do you explain all of this to your kids?

How do you explain what a “die in” is?

How do you explain to your brown-skinned son that police are killing brown-skinned people?

How do you explain that police are still heroes? That while this injustice happens and it’s bad and we want to stop it, not all police officers are bad?

None of it is easy, I can tell you that.

When we told Milo that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were black, he broke down in tears.

His reaction broke my heart. But it also seems like the only appropriate way to respond.

The civil rights movement may have been 50 years ago and we did elect a black president, but that doesn’t mean injustice is over. It’s still all around us, it’s still causing pain, and it’s our time to stop it.

At the rally they led us in a song. I shot a quick video of part of it:

Oh the day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal
And my brother can’t breathe
Hand in hand with my family we will fill these streets.

I can’t help but think of the day that will come when we don’t have to march or cry or fight or despair no more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a kingdom hope, but it doesn’t have to be an unattainable hope.

This whole thing is hard and complicated and painful and difficult. If you’re feeling those things, I feel them with you. Please listen.

At the end of the rally they had ribbons and asked us to write something on the ribbons. Here’s what we wrote:

Black Lives Matter A Lot Black Lives Matter!My Boy Shouldn't Cry No More!

My Kid’s Repeat Halloween Costume

Two years ago my son Milo dressed up as Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon for Halloween. This year? Same thing.

It is a pretty great costume. Here he is two years ago:

I kind of love that he’s re-using his costume. It’s only because he’s completely obsessed with dragons and since the sequel came out this summer he’s all over it again.

My wife makes awesome Halloween costumes.

Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

I don’t like helping my kids with their homework. There, I said it.

My parents never had to harass me to do my homework. I just did it. I was annoyingly responsible. To the point that I spent Friday nights in college getting a jump on papers. My wife still makes fun of me for that.

But I feel no sense of responsibility over my kids’ homework. It’s their homework. They need to be responsible for it themselves.

And now there’s research that backs me up. Apparently kids don’t learn anything when parents help them, and sometimes they even do worse in school. Why? Well, do you remember the quadratic formula? Me neither. [For the smarty pants who wants to post it in the comments, let me save you the trouble.]

Continue reading Why I Don’t Help My Kids With Their Homework

Props to Single Parents

Dragon MiloSometimes kids can be monsters. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we love ’em. But some days they drive you nuts. That’s why single parents need special props.

Last week Abby took a last minute, 6-day trip to Mississippi to help some friends. School had just ended, it was the start of summer and suddenly she was gone for nearly a week.

I instantly became a full-time single parent. Not fun.

And not because my kids were monsters. If anything, they were easy. We had enough stuff scheduled that nobody was bored (though I was run a little ragged) and that kept fights and whining to a minimum.

But the kids were still monsters, devouring any sense of freedom I had. The simple responsibility of being the sole provider and care taker meant I had no freedom to do so many simple things. Running to the library or the bank required bringing the kids with me. I couldn’t just run to the store after they went to bed. I had a babysitter one night for a vestry meeting (yeah, how ridiculous is that?) and I took off a little early so I could do some fun stuff, wander around a bookstore and grab a quiet meal by myself. I ended up running errands and eating at Subway.

Then every time I turned around nobody had cleaned the kitchen, folded the laundry or mowed the lawn. Oh yeah, that’s my job.

I don’t know how you single parents do it.

Raising kids is hard work. But doing it without backup? Always being on? Never being able to just go do something by yourself? That’s horrific. Single parents deserve a major pat on the back and day at the spa.

I only had to do it for six days.

 

Kid President: Broken But Still Dancing

I’ve been enamored lately with Kid President. Surely you’ve seen or heard about his “Pep Talk” video that’s garnered 12 million views and counting. His whole schtick is encouraging people to be more awesome. And dance.

“It’s like that dude Journey says, ‘Don’t stop believing.’ Unless your dream is stupid. Then you should get a better dream.”

You might as well stop and watch the video now. It’s that awesome:

But the real story behind Kid President is even more awesome. Kid President is 9-year-old Robby Novak of Henderson, Tenn. He has osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones brittle and break easily. The move-busting Kid President has had more than 70 broken bones in his life, 13 surgeries and steel rods inserted in his legs.

“I’m broken right now, but I can still dance,” he says in his “True Story” video.

Robby’s positive attitude has always been infectious and he started creating videos with his older brother-in-law, Bradley Montague, just to goof around. They started just sharing the videos with family. But in July of 2012 they started posting the videos online and tweeting at @IAmKidPresident (the Twitter bio describes it as a “family project”). Three months later the videos were noticed by Rainn Wilson of The Office and became a part of his online venture and YouTube channel Soul Pancake.

Kid President is well loved in our house. Not only have we picked up on one of his best catch phrases (“Not cool Robert Frost!”), but there are some awesome similarities: Robby is adopted and has a sister named Lexi. Every time I get another glimpse of his real life, it’s as good as another Kid President video.

It’s fun to see kids doing this kind of online awesomeness. It’s this kind of thing I was hoping for (but couldn’t possibly imagine something like this) when I was working on the Kids Creating Stuff Online ebook.

Update: This is how the kids spent today’s snow day:

Kids Creating Stuff Online

Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the FutureI’m a big fan of the Internet. I’m also a big fan of kids doing stuff online. That should come as no surprise—I did publish a book with my daughter (The Stephanies!) and helped her turn her drawings into $675 for Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The Internet enables a lot of cool things and age is not a problem. In fact, kids often come up with the best ideas.

That’s why it’s important that we help our kids understand the Internet and make the most of it. There’s a lot of potential online, both for harm and for good. Frankly, I’m tired of the sad stories of pathetic things people have done online. I don’t want to read another story about students being expelled over something posted on Facebook. I’d much rather hear about the cool things kids are doing online:

  • Like coding and selling their own Justin Bieber whack-a-mole app, Bustin Jieber.
  • Or launching a fashion magazine that would make Oprah jealous.
  • Or creating an artificial intelligence to better diagnose breast cancer (I don’t even understand that one).

Every example above is a project launched by someone under 18. How cool is that?

And they’re all in the free ebook, Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

It’s a project I put together for WordPress theme and plugin developer iThemes that explores how kids can create stuff online. Initially we were going to explore kids coding, but as I got into the topic it seemed so much more interesting to explore kids creating all kinds of stuff online. So we talk about coding, design, writing, music, causes and so much more.

The book explores the benefits kids get from creating stuff online, from becoming better thinkers to improving their relational skills.

Then it explores how kids can create stuff online, practical strategies and tips to make things easier.

There’s a section about being safe and smart online, how educators can help kids create stuff online and a slew of resources and tools to help kids. All throughout the book are examples of kids creating cool stuff.

It’s a fun project and I hope you’ll check it out and pass it along to your friends. After all, it’s free. Grab a copy: Kids Creating Stuff Online: Inspiring the Innovators of the Future.

Embracing Mistakes, Pain & Failure

Lexi BikingNobody likes to make mistakes, feel pain or experience failure. But that’s how we learn, grow and succeed. It’s something we’re losing today.

A 2004 article in Psychology Today explores this phenomena, and if anything it seems more relevant today. The article bemoans the way parents over-protect their children, keeping them from experiencing the mistakes, pain and failure that will teach them important life lessons. Kids are coached through play and never learn how to skin their knee and get back up again. Parents swoop in to resolve every playground conflict and kids never learn to handle their own disputes. Parents fight with teachers, trying to gain every advantage for their child. In the end, kids learn how to work the system instead of how to overcome challenges.

If allowed to, learning how to get along with others would actually make kids smarter: “Social engagement actually improves intellectual skills. It fosters decision-making, memory and thinking, speed of mental processing”

The article points to college as the time when the “emotional training wheels come off,” but now kids totter and crash. Relationship problems used to be the biggest issue for college students, a developmentally appropriate concern. But since 1996, anxiety has overtaken relationship woes. Now 15% of college students nationwide are depressed. Those relationship woes haven’t gone away, but worsened, with stalking on the rise. Anorexia and bulimia now effect 40% of women at some point in their college career. Binge drinking is a steadily growing problem.

Yikes. College students don’t know how to cope. And in some ways colleges have caved. At one point 94% of seniors at Harvard were graduating with honors. It reminds me of one of the conflicts in the Pixar super-hero film The Incredibles: If everyone is special, then no one is special.

It’s not just college students either. Adolescence has extended into the 30s.

“Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

Get Up Again
It’s a hard thing. Nobody wants to see their kids hurt.

I think about teaching Lexi how to ride her bike last summer. Failure seemed to shut her down. But more than failure, the fear was the most crippling. Fear of falling down, certainly, but also the fear of failure more than the failure itself. I realized more than anything I had to teach Lexi how to get up and try again. I let her “crash” into the grass at one point, proving that she could dust her self off and try again. She almost didn’t.

I’m hardly an over-protective parent. But even in a simple example like learning how to ride a bike I see these difficulties in coping with mistakes, pain and failure.

Somehow, we need to learn to embrace them. Only then can we rise above them.

Thank You Bruises
As Dallas Clayton says in An Awesome Book of Thanks, “Thank you to… those bumps and bruises that turn ‘couldn’ts’ to ‘coulds.’ Thank you to those for they make us all stronger. They make us all smarter. They make us last longer.”

“If you want to double your success rate you need to triple your failure rate.” That’s the mantra of an off-the-grid, quasi homeless character in Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema who learns to maximize his panhandling to the point that he does it to help the truly homeless and destitute rather than himself.

We can’t be so afraid of failure, because failure is what leads to success. You have to try, try and try again. As much as I hate to admit it, Yoda was wrong.

Finally, writer Neil Gaiman says it like this in his New Year’s wishes from last year:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.