Posts Tagged ‘teens’

Social Caterpillar

Monday, July 21, 2014
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Emma Watson (via Pinterest).

Emma Watson (via Pinterest).

Rachel “Bunny” Lowe Lambert Lloyd Mellon, the horticulturalist and art collector turned second wife of philanthropist and horse breeder, Paul Mellon, became famous for her best friendship with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. (Lord, what a mouthful.)

In the time she spent with Jackie redesigning the White House Rose Garden, she shared her secrets for staying out of the public eye while maintaining an influential role in society.  In her old-fashioned correctness, she told friends that “a woman’s name should appear in print exactly three times: when she makes her debut, when she marries, and when she dies.”

The rest, darling, isn’t to be shared.

I read about “Bunny” in an article in the July issue of Town & Country magazine, which questioned whether people can maintain any sort of solitude in the glare of social media.  If you can Google your own name and not find any information, then you have achieved the nearly impossible dream.

In this day, most (if not all) girls make their “debuts” via Facebook. And once they’re out, there’s no going back.

I talked about this with Ava, who is 11 years old and doesn’t have a social media presence (other than what I publish). Most of the girls she knows already have Instagram sites, and a few have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.  She’s never asked for anything other than access to Pinterest so she can surf pictures of her favorite musicians. We agreed in order to save our bedroom walls from hideous posters of British boy bands.

Ava sees how much I’m online, posting comments and uploading pictures, and fiddling with different filters to make shots look their best.  She also knows that I landed assignments from USA TODAY simply by maintaining a LinkedIn profile, and she’s aware that I blog about our family every week in the Daily Mail’s online edition. It doesn’t bother Ava — in fact, she’s proud of her old mom — but she doesn’t want to call attention to herself. Like her father, she just doesn’t care to share.

And there’s something to be said for the girl who says nothing at all.

“I think those sites can cause trouble,” she said to me one night when we were up late talking.

“How so?” I asked.

“It just seems like girls get into a lot of fights over things that are posted.”

True, I admitted.  Girls and boys have to be very careful about what they put out there.

“I just like being quiet.”

I wish I had that skill.  Some people have described my writing as “brave” and “gutsy” and “always honest”, but it’s also risky to reveal so much. It’s a call for reaction — and criticism.

We talked about the concept of privacy for a long time, and I realized that she’s entering a stage of life that is full of sensitive matters.  As a writer who observes everyday life and analyzes its oddities, it’s very hard not to turn motherhood into material. As playwright Nora Ephron said so expertly, “Everything in life is copy.”  And she’s absolutely correct.

But maybe it shouldn’t be.

After a few sleepless nights, I’ve decided to end my run writing for The Mommyhood.  It has been a difficult decision that makes me sad, but I feel like I need to let our rising sixth grader have some breathing room. She and her younger sister have belonged to the world for nearly four years, and while I have enjoyed every second of sharing this cherished life with you, I think it’s time to bring it back home.

Giving up this blog is a lot like giving a baby up for adoption.  For a journalist, an essayist or a diarist, a column in any form is a coveted space.  I am very grateful that a friend pitched one of my pieces to Brad McElhinny and encouraged him to give my work a closer look, and I am so appreciative of the Daily Mail staffers who made me feel like one of them.

Of course, I have to give thanks to my girls, who provided more than a half-million words under my fingers. In return, I plan to print every post and have two copies bound, which will be saved for when they become mothers. This blog has chronicled a large part of their childhood, but also the phases of motherhood that I hope they’ll refer to one day.

Finally, I thank you, dear readers, who have clicked my links every Monday, “liked” them, favorited them, forwarded them, and provided tremendous support through comments and replies. Parenting is a lonely job at times, but I rarely felt that way. Each time I signed on, there was always someone there to give me a much-needed thumbs up.

Bright and early this morning, I was waiting for the “pop” of sealed jars containing homemade strawberry jam.  I sat at the computer and scrolled through shots on Pinterest  – everything from Kate Middleton and baby George to sweet George Harrison. Then, I stumbled upon a quote attributed to Emma Watson, most famously known as Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. It’s hard to tell if she actually mouthed the following words, but I sent the pin to Ava anyway.  It said:

THE LESS YOU REVEAL, THE MORE PEOPLE CAN WONDER.

And as my girls enter the reality show of adolescence, I pray they’ll choose to remain a bit of a mystery.

Note:  Katy Brown may be leaving her regular spot in The Mommyhood, but you can continue to follow her lifestyle blog, House Kat.  It’s a peach!

http://thehousekatblog.wordpress.com

 

Commencement

Monday, May 19, 2014
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baby avaDear Ava,

Six years ago, your dad and I had one of our most memorable arguments. We struggled with the decision to send you to kindergarten. You’d just turned five, and separation anxiety was the name of your game. I wanted to delay your start another year until you felt more secure; your dad stressed that you should enroll because you were ready. Guess who won?

Now I’m writing as you wrap up your time in elementary school.  In a few months (weeks, really), you’ll be in what your dad and I called “junior high”.  This is the place where you’ll learn more about others than you will in college.  That’s where you’ll go to learn about yourself. These next few years are going to be the hardest — for you, as you work through situations that make no sense — and for us, as we work through fears of letting go. See, this separation anxiety business is inherited. That’s the gene you got from me.

You got a few other traits, too.  On a hot summer morning, you kicked your way into the world with a foot so long that it smeared off your birth certificate.  The finest blonde hair and darkest blue eyes were the prettiest things I’d ever seen.  And when you grabbed my finger and gave me a reassuring grin (which I refuse to consider was anything else), I knew that you were a cure for a lot of hurt.  No matter what anyone says, I’m a firm believer that we travel through this existence in desperate need of a mother.  Whether we liked or loved the one we were given makes no difference. If we’re lucky, it’s a presence that will get us through everything else that life throws at us.  If we weren’t so lucky, then we spend our days looking for something to fill that void.  You were given to me to fill that void. I’ll thank God every day for knowing what I needed, exactly when I needed it most.

You’re going to need help, too, but you’ll fight it. Hopefully, you won’t put up the fight that I did when I was a teenager — paybacks are hell — but I do expect a showdown every now and then.  We’re too much alike. You’re going to make mistakes, but I’ll make more.  I’m going to hang on too tight, stay too long, become too involved and say entirely too much.  You’ll do the same. But, I’ll forgive you as I hope you’ll forgive me.

Those mistakes, by the way, are learning experiences.  You’ve heard us say many times, “You can do this the easy way or the hard way.” It’s still your choice.  One of the saddest parts of being a parent is allowing a child to make mistakes. It’s brutally difficult to stand back and watch what’s sure to happen. However, you can avoid some of the headaches by remembering what we’ve always preached to both you and your sister:

If you don’t want it known, don’t say it.

If you don’t want it shared, don’t write it.

If you don’t want it remembered, don’t post it.

If you don’t want it saved, don’t pose for it.

If you don’t want it told, don’t do it.

But please tell us about it.  While I’m sure you won’t want my opinion every moment of every situation, and while I’m sure one of your greatest lessons will be learning how to solve your own problems, I want you to promise that you’ll always bring those thoughts home.  The rest of society (school) might judge you, but we won’t.  We’ll criticize your first dates, and we’ll scrutinize dresses for dances, though.  That’s our job.

Oh — one more thing:  If you get your heart broken, don’t show it. Dignity is your best friend. Protect her.

From the first day of elementary school to the approaching last, your dad and I have been immeasurably proud of you. And it’s just the beginning! We can’t wait to see what you do with all the potential that you hold back, but we know exists.  Hold your head up high (but hold your values higher), flash that smile, and walk like you’ve been there all along. It’s the first of many steps toward independence. And as you showed us six years ago, and as you’ll show us again in six more years, you’re going to go far. You’re ready.

With all our love,

Mom (and Dad)

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy (Part Two)

Monday, May 5, 2014
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I’ve calmed down since my last cell phone rant.  But not by much.

After a candid conversation with a few teenagers, I learned that middle schoolers need phones for several reasons:

1) Once the day is done, students are usually on their own. After a certain time, the school is locked and it’s difficult to make a telephone call from the office, which is also locked.

2) It’s a means of looking (and being) occupied during awkward social times, such as waiting for and riding on the bus, waiting for the first bell, waiting for the lunch period to end, and waiting for dismissal.  It’s a type of “don’t bother me, I’m busy” signal that a hardback book used to serve.

3) Group work is more common in middle school, which requires kids to spend time together out of class. It’s hard to coordinate logisitcs, and even harder to share files and pieces of the project without email and cell service.  For most kids, a phone is a homework tool.

4) The mother of a teenager chimed in to remind me that we live in a Columbine and Sandy Hook world. School lock downs can occur for any reason these days.  Wouldn’t I rather get a text from my daughter telling me that everything is OK, as opposed to calling the school for a half-hour trying to get answers?

And 5) There’s a lot of emphasis on knowing where our children are at all times.  But, we’re the ones who are picking them up.  Traffic jams, wrecks, detours, dangerous weather, meetings, etc., can keep us from getting to them on time.  Shouldn’t our kids know were WE are?

I relayed all of this information to my husband, and we determined that our rising sixth grader doesn’t need a cell phone for her birthday. Nothing good can come of it over the course of a summer vacation.  There’s too much downtime to get into friendship trouble due to potential misunderstandings. However, IF we do cave in and allow her to have a cell phone, it’ll happen the day before school starts. We’ll visit our guy at AT&T to select a phone that connects to our network so we can monitor every single move — incoming and outgoing.

But, if we discover improper use of the phone by our tween or her classmates, we’ll rethink our decision.  James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation Program also produced a companion piece called “The Complete Guide to Consequences”.  Dr. Lehman gives parents tips on motivating children to practice responsible behavior.  However, much of his advice is geared toward managing indignant teens.  I needed specific help in the cell phone area, so I searched for blogs that focused on protecting our kids before trouble starts.

Dr. Laura Markham has been known to ruffle parents’ feathers, but in this instance, she is absolutely correct in her assessment of tween-age independence.  As Markham points out in the very first paragraph of an essay, the middle school years are children’s first steps toward total separation, but a cell phone keeps them connected to mom and dad.

Some other parenting experts say that’s the problem.  Cell phones turn parents and children into conjoined twins. Kids don’t know how to cope with problems.  They only know how to text their parents.

Markham admits that she worried for hours about her daughter misusing the phone to text after midnight, chat with strangers, download expensive apps and songs, post rude or thoughtless comments on social networking sites, and share less-than-flattering pictures with kids who could then send them on to the entire student body.

Yes, Dr. Laura, I hear you loud and clear.  Dr. James Lehman says we should trust our kids until they give us a reason not to.  We need to set firm expectations of how the cell phone and its features are to be used.  Contracts may seem silly, but every service provider requires customers to enter into agreements before any type of product can be sold. Parents are providing their child with a cell phone.  This device should come with a list of demands:

1. Phones are given back to parents at the end of each day.  Phones should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom overnight.

2. Phone numbers must be kept private, and given out only with permission from mom and/or dad.

3. Keep a life: A child (tween/teen) should not stop what they’re doing to answer friends’ texts or calls when they first come in.  However, if mom or dad calls, then the child MUST pick up. No excuses. No exceptions. If a call is missed, return it ASAP and be prepared to explain.

4. NEVER broadcast a location, or post/check-in on social networking sites.

5.  Know that the phone can be checked at any time, without warning.  Be prepared for all texts or messages/voice mails, etc., to be read or listened to. Privacy is reserved for bathrooms.

It’s sort of ironic:  Parents report that they allow their tween to have a cell phone ONLY so they can stay in touch for safety purposes.  In this day and age, people are unreliable.  If you want your child to be able to get a hold of you, it’s because you know that a million things can happen, and a text might make the difference between a close call and a devastating one. However, when the child does something wrong, the cell phone is taken away.

Safety first? I wonder.

 

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy (Part One)

Monday, April 28, 2014
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About this cell phone thing…

In earlier posts, I told you that my husband and I had no intention of getting our daughter a cell phone until she reached high school.  I couldn’t imagine the reasons why she’d need one before the first day of sixth grade, but every parent I spoke with confirmed that they’re as basic as school supplies: backpack, lunch tote, cell phone.

But why? Yes, I know … it gives our girl a lifeline. She can get in touch with us if she needs something. However, I can only assume phones must be turned off —  if not put away entirely — during class, and I assume they’re dropped to the bottom of a bag of some sort during practices or after-school activities. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

As I look back on my first year of junior high, which is now middle school to our kids, I had no need to call anyone. I was in the hallway with my friends before school, seated next to them in seven classes, at the same table during lunch, and on the field with them for band.  My dad dropped me off at 7:45 a.m., and my mother picked me up sometime around 4:00 when band ended.  Once again, who was I supposed to call, for what reason, and when was there time?

On weekends and during summer vacations (from June to September), my friends and I got together at each other’s houses or at the neighborhood pool.  My mother told me to be home at this hour, or that she’d be there to pick me up at that time.  I didn’t call to tell her when I was ready to come home.  She told me when to expect her.

Am I as out of touch as a rotary phone?

But all the middle school kids have them, I’m told.

Fine. So all the kids have some version of a cell phone.  Many have fun phones (I hesitate to call them “smart” when they can cause so much trouble), and others have less glamorous flip styles.  For those parents who are as stubborn as we appear to be, their children have “pay as you go” phones that are truly held for emergency use.

I took to the Internet to search for “first phones” and I found a list of possible choices.  As reported by numerous parenting sites, these are a few good ones available through local stores:

1. LG Migo

2. Sanoxy GSM

3. Firefly Glow

4. Buddy Bear

….WAIT. STOP. The “BUDDY BEAR” phone?

I clicked the link and literally choked on a long sip of Diet Dr. Pepper.  Indeed, these are “first cell phones” as I typed into the Google search box, but they aren’t intended for middle schoolers.  They’re intended for “little hands.”  Yes…preschoolers.

Pardon me, Mom, but WTH?

As I read RooGirl’s article dedicated to the best cell phones for kids of all ages, I discovered that entry-level communication devices are similar to an elderly person’s First Alert button that’s worn and pressed if they’ve fallen and can’t get up.

“…Parents give their children cell phones for reassurance and added security. It also allows them to keep in touch with their kids when they’re not together.”

Are they home alone?!

“Parents can choose phones to track children’s whereabouts via GPS, monitor phone activity and block content. Finding the cell phone that’s right for your child depends on how old, tech-savvy and responsible they are. And, whether you want them to use the phone for emergencies only, communicating with friends and family or have the ability to surf the web.” — RooGirl blogger

I’m sorry, but I can barely finish this post.  I am completely shocked that at least 10 phones on the market are designed for the younger set, gadgets that include cameras, text messaging, full-sized multi-color screens, and customizable ringtones. “Let it Go” has been downloaded more times than any other song.

I sit here thinking that if your child needs an SOS device in his or her hip pocket, then you don’t need a tiny tyke cell phone that whistles.  You need your head examined.

As I scrolled down to the tween and teen line of phones, I stopped on one of the first models reviewed by RooGirl.  The LG Rumor.

That’s it. I’m done.  Maybe I am Frozen in time.  But in the words of Elsa the Queen, let the storm rage on.  The cold never bothered me anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First phones for little hands…

Who…me?

Monday, April 7, 2014
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I recently wrote a short piece about ordering The Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on TV. When the package arrived, I felt a pang of guilt, because my daughters are well behaved and they give us a world of happiness that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. They’ve done nothing wrong to prompt this research project, but I like to anticipate what may happen next.  I plan disasters you see, and I’m convinced teenagers turn into the spawn of Satan by the time they turn 15.

So, I’m preparing to dance with the devil herself.

As I cracked open the instructions (more demanding than a one room school teacher), I discovered that parents who order this disciplinary guide have serious troubles at home. If you have a rude, crude, obnoxious, violent, defiant child sleeping under your roof, then The Total Transformation Program better be on your bedside table next to the King James.  But what if your child (the age bracket begins at age five) has a couple of quirks — such as playing the victim too often, or playing the politician to say all the things you expect him or her to believe, just to get out of trouble?

I know.  I got scared, too.  I felt like I’d hired a lawyer to find potential lawsuits in my life. I didn’t have any problems when I sat down at the kitchen counter, but after I got up, I felt like we needed a family intervention.

But wait! There’s more!

So one of my daughters plays the victim and the other plays politics.  What about me?

Dr. Lehman, the Total Transformation Program therapist, reveals that I’m the biggest problem of all. ME!  In fact, it’s amazing that my daughters have gotten this far in life.

I’m a Perfectionist, a Screamer, and at times, a Martyr.  I tend to blame myself more than anyone or anything else (see Perfectionist), but this time, I’m taking Dad down with me.  He’s a Bottomless Pocket, Ticket-Punching, Savior.

Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…much.

THE BOOK, which is how I will refer to it from now on, suggests that our parenting roles are, at times, ineffective.  But if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

I may not fix it, but I can be aware of what works now … because it might not work later. I need to tweak how I manage the girls as they grow older.

This just might be the most important lesson for parents: Be aware.  Don’t be different, but be mindful of what we do (on occasion) that trigger behaviors in our children that we don’t like.  No, it’s not all our fault, but children learn from what they witness at home.  They take the best (and worst) of us wherever they go. We should at least be cognizant of our own weak spots so we can prevent tension and turmoil later on.

So, I’ve been humbled.  I opened the book (and the seven DVDs) thinking that I would read about other people’s problems.  Instead, I recognized all of us. There are no perfect children, and no matter how hard we work, there are no perfect parents.  The challenge is to find a way to solve problems without creating great divides in the relationships we cherish.

I bought the program after high school senior Rachel Canning sued her parents for tuition and living expenses despite moving out of the family home.  My daughters will not turn out like that kid, I said to myself. And they probably won’t.  But now I see that we could turn out like Rachel Canning’s parents if we don’t change our ways.

 

 

 

 

Decision Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.

 

The Sneaky One

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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One of the great advantages of having friends who are a few years older than me is that they usually have children that are older than my children, have more experience than I do and can offer an entirely different perspective on parenting.

One of the disadvantages is that they have every right to scoff at the pronouncements I make.Yellow_Dude__Sneaky_1_preview

Take, for example, my recent comment that I only have to worry that one of my children will take risks behind my back.

One friend warned me that any adolescent can make poor decisions.

Another told a story about cleaning around an object in her teenage son’s room only to learn years later when he was an adult that the object was a ladder he hung out of his two-story window at night to escape.

And one friend told me “You never know really know which child is the sneaky one.”

She was right. The sneaky one really fools us.

And while I will never admit to ever having my own sneaky tendencies, I know that at least one member of my family does.

Her name is Skitty, and she’s fat, furry and feline. She is an indoor cat who pretends to be afraid of going outdoors, but that is simply her sneaky effort to lull our family into a sense of security.

At times, she provides hints into her true nature when she lurks around an open door leading onto the back deck or stares longingly out the front bay window. But normally she pretends to only be interested in eating and sleeping.

We never would have learned about her true nature if she hadn’t repeated the same mistake on multiple times.

The first time she escaped, no one noticed she was gone until my son yelled, “Mom, I can hear Skitty, but I can’t find her. Since Skitty likes to hide, not being able to find her wasn’t unusual. But she normally only meows when she’s hungry and demanding food. Right in front of one of us. In a very obvious and demanding manner.

But after a search of the whole house, we still couldn’t find her. That’s because she wasn’t in the house at all. Instead, she was in the backyard and had apparently gotten quite hungry, hence her meowing.

None of us knew how Skitty had gotten in the backyard, but we weren’t too worried. We figured one of us had left the door open.

We hadn’t.

The next time Skitty escaped then meowed from the backyard, I started getting suspicious.

The third time she got out, I conducted a thorough search of the house and could find no escape route.

My daughter is the one who solved the mystery. She was in her bedroom when Skitty entered, jumped onto the window sill, pushed the screen out and jumped out of the two-story window over an asphalt driveway. She was able to survive because she still had a few of her nine lives left. That, and she jumped at an angle, landed in the bush next to the backyard fence then jumped over the fence into the backyard.

We fixed the window screen, and Skitty was once again confined to the house. But we were all a bit more aware of her whereabouts, the potential risks to her safety that she was sure to ignore and the outside interests she had worked so hard to hide.

In hindsight, I’m glad Skitty created that heightened awareness. It was good practice for me. As the mother of two adolescents, those skills will come in handy.

Fortunately, I have yet to discover any night-time escapes or truly bad behavior. But I am on the look out for it. Unfortunately, after my friends’ warnings and my cat’s escapades, I’m just not very confident I really know which kid, if either,  is “the sneaky one.”

What’s in the medicine cabinet: Generic miracle workers

Friday, February 7, 2014
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Turned on to a knock off.

Turned on to a knock off.

In keeping with my new year’s writing resolution to develop more blog posts that could actually help other mothers, I’ve decided to write a few shorter pieces related to food, beauty, fashion, and whatever else catches my attention.  For example:

What’s in my medicine cabinet?

What’s in my kitchen pantry?

What’s in my closet?

What’s in my makeup bag?

These little posts aren’t to show off what I’m buying, using, eating or wearing.  The goal is to share little discoveries that might help or bring happiness to your daily life, too.

Focusing on WHAT’S IN THE MEDINE CABINET, I’ll ask you to flip back a couple of weeks to a post I wrote about hormonal acne.  My tweenage daughter and I are suffering from different types of breakouts, but we’ve been spared some of the agony and embarrassment by products made by Rodan and Fields, the creators of Proactiv and Unblemish.

The problem is that both kits can become extremely expensive if you should need the products longer than a couple of weeks or months. But, I was able to save about $30 for the three-step Proactiv set by picking up a generic kit at Walmart for $11.

I’ll be the first to admit that I question generic brands, because I’m convinced that name brands contain an ingredient that the off-brand does not.  But, for $11, I decided to take a risk and give the fake Proactiv a shot.  So far, the Equate cleanser, toner, spot treatment and mask work like a charm.

I haven’t been able to find a generic version of Unblemish, but in time, I’m sure someone in the cosmetics and skincare market will crack the code to stubborn middle-aged acne.  But at least I know it won’t cost a fortune to banish my daughters’ blemishes over the next few years.

Note: Katy Brown was not paid to use or to endorse any of these products or services.  As her husband will tell you, she buys everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave no print

Monday, February 3, 2014
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card info

I’m sorry, too.

Last week, I received a letter from the Neiman Marcus Group stating that my payment card was used fraudulently.  The President and CEO was very sorry and deeply regretted what had happened, noting that it was a most unfortunate intrusion. During the months of November and December, I made purchases at Target more than 30 times. I hadn’t noticed any illegal activity associated with that hacking scandal, but I did discover that unapproved iTunes purchases were connected to my user name and password.  It’s a rough time to be a frequent shopper.

Just this weekend, my family and I spent a couple of days at Easton Mall near Columbus. Every time I thought about buying something, I didn’t question the price.  I questioned whether the stores had proper security measures in place to protect my debit or credit card information.  My husband despises the barrage of questions that he’s hit with at the check-out counters.

“Email address?”

“Home telephone number?”

“Contact information so we can send you news about upcoming sales?”

“What is your full name and address for our customer loyalty program?”

His face turns the color of a hothouse tomato, and he politely — but directly — informs the sales associates that they don’t need that stuff to sell him a New York Yankees hat.  In this sporting goods store, he turned over two twenties and walked out of the mall leaving no trace of himself.

“Leave no print, Katy,” he said, patting me on the back as if I were his young son.  “Leave no print.”

On our next stop, I was in a gourmet cooking supply store and confronted with the same line of questioning.

“Are you in our system?” the associate asked.  I nodded yes and announced that I receive catalogs.

“Let’s update that address, shall we?” he asked.

The pressure was on.  Do I…or don’t I?

“What will it be used for?” I asked quietly.

“So we can email you the receipt,” he said. “And, if you have any problems with your purchases, we’ll have the transaction on file so you won’t have to bother with that receipt.”

Ok, so you want my information to email me a receipt that I won’t need anyway — to return dish towels?

I stammered and then confirmed my email address, speaking in hushed tones so the woman behind me wouldn’t hear.  This had become ridiculous!

After bagging four striped towels and an apron, the associate handed me a printed receipt.

Damn! Fooled again!

Retail stores train their associates to be tricky little suckers. Yet, I’m in control of my own information, and I don’t have to offer one single piece of data if I don’t want to.  Now that my daughter is becoming a consumer of apps and a user of different academic websites, I need to teach her how to “leave no print” as her father coaches.

  1. Never post personal contact information on websites or blogs, such as cellphone numbers, home and/or email addresses.
  2. Never allow a social networking site to post the user’s location, such as a “sent from” notification that accompanies uploaded photos and text messages or posts.
  3. Never disclose the activities of other people or where other people are located, unless it’s to identify the company of a parent or guardian. Posting their activities could put them at risk, too.
  4. Never post a password or a user ID online, or in the body of an email — not even to a trusted recipient.
  5. Apply all privacy blocks and locks on social networking sites.
  6. Be mindful of student directories or other type of campus publications that publish specific information, such as email addresses or physical locations such as apartment numbers.
  7. Leave application lines or categories blank that are used for solicitation purposes.  This includes physical addresses, cellphone numbers, and email addresses.
  8. Unless you have no choice, never volunteer credit or debit card information on a cellphone, and only provide account information to companies in which you have initiated business of some sort.
  9. Never leave receipts behind or toss them carelessly in trash cans.  Destroy all personal information, even if the receipt reveals only the last four digits of the account.
  10. Protect your social security card and never carry credit or debit cards that aren’t used on a regular basis. Keep cards in a safe location at home until they are needed for use.

My daughter doesn’t have a checking account yet, but she does have an online presence by way of email and school-based websites.  Since our run-ins with identity theft, first with a Kroger Card, then with iTunes, and now Neiman Marcus, we’ve been preaching the importance of “just say NO” to requests for personal information. While it may be impossible to “leave no print”, it is possible to teach our kids to be more secretive. And we’ll be keeping close tabs on their accounts as well as our own.

Leave no doubt.

 

 

Oh, snap!

Monday, January 27, 2014
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And this just might be a good thing.

The day our daughter learned how to download apps was the day we became years behind in parenting. Just last week, I learned how to install a keyboard on my iPhone that contains emoticons.  Yes, just last week.  Now I end every message with some type of image that simplifies the main idea of my communication.  If we’re out of kitty kibble, then I’ll send my husband a text asking him to stop at the store before coming home.

Ringo needs food, I write. And then I add two images:  a paw print and a plate of spaghetti.

The app that’s trending now is called Snapchat, and if you haven’t heard of it (please tell me you haven’t), clear your calendar for the next five minutes and read on.

I’m serious when I type that I hope I’m not alone in this new Snapchat discovery.  I like to think of myself as a newcomer when it comes to teenage interests, but when it comes to technology, teenagers call me an oldtimer. I guess the emoticon thing showed my age.

According to website research, Snapchat is a photo messaging app developed by two students once enrolled at Stanford University.  After downloading Snapchat, customers can use their cellphones to take photos, shoot videos, add drawings and content to send to a list of recipients.  If the user sends a video or a picture, then the content is called a “Snap”.  Everything else is just a chat.

Teens (and tweens that are underage) are in love with the app because Snaps aren’t supposed to last forever.  The user sets a time limit for the Snap to be available to the list of recipients once it’s opened, from one to 10 seconds. Once this timeframe ends, the Snaps are hidden from the recipient’s iPhone or Andriod, and it’s deleted from Snapchat’s server — at some point, which isn’t quite clear.

Studies show that Snapchat is most popular among teens, but the over-40 crowd is getting in on the action as a means of monitoring their children’s activity.  However, the two Stanford University students who became wealthy entrepreneuers at a tune of $860 million (with an option to sell to Facebook for $3 billion — but they declined), also created an app for the even younger market. Snapkidz, an app for boys and girls under the age of 13, is a sibling app that allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but their creations can’t be sent to anyone else, nor can the artwork be saved.

Why should parents be concerned? As a starting point, Snaps come and go so quickly that parents might not be able to keep up with the content being sent or received by their children. To that end, Snapchat has developed a nine page guide for parents, which explains virtually every aspect of the app to help ease concerns. However, this parent didn’t feel much better about the app after reading a section that explained that it’s “not okay to create, send, receive, or save a sexually explicit image of a minor.”

But wait — I thought images disappeared in as little as two seconds! Snapchat went on to state in the guide that “…although messages are designed to disappear in 10 seconds or less, there is NO guarantee that the recipeient won’t take a picture (screenshot) of the message.”

While the app is free, the fun may be costly — if not dangerous.  Parents need to preach until they’re blue in the face that THINK BEFORE YOU SEND is the number one rule for any type of social networking. This also pertains to THINK BEFORE YOU RECEIVE, given the frequency of inappropriate Snaps and sexting traffic. If parents intend to oversee the messages their teen receives through Snapchat, “then mom or dad should instruct their teen not to open Snapchat messages until they can be viewed together.”

Right. As if that’s going to happen.

But Snapchat also advises parents to look at the app through teenage eyes.  It’s designed to be a source of entertainment (the type of entertainment is hotly debated, no pun intended). The creators stress that “…life is to be shared in the moment, for the moment.  If you aren’t enjoying it, then you’re doing it wrong.”

However, in this mother’s opinion, if you delete the app from your child’s phone, you’re doing it right.