Impact Teenagers by Speaking Life

I have a confession: If I had to choose one audience to write for – adults or teenagers – I would choose teenagers.

Why? Because they’re easier to influence. They are moldable in ways that adults are not.

I first discovered this while writing an article on teen depression. At the time I was blogging for parents, but during my interview with the doctor, she made a remark that stirred in me a desire to help a younger audience.

“The reason I love working with children and teenagers,” she said, “is because they’re so resilient. You can change the whole trajectory of their life. Early intervention is key. It’s a lot easier to intervene effectively when they’re young instead of years later, when they’ve been depressed so long the illness becomes incorporated into part of their identity.”

In short, adults are hard to change. We are more set in our ways, our beliefs, and our mindsets. Children, on the other hand, are still forming their identities and mindsets. They are what parenting expert Haim Ginott once called “wet cement.”

“Children are like wet cement,” he said. “Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”

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From Destruction God Makes Art

When my daughter was 6, she showed an interest in art. Since I’m not artsy person, I did what non-artsy moms do: I signed her up for art lessons.

At one camp, they told us to send to kids in old clothes they could get dirty. After picking her up the first day and noticing the paint splattered everywhere, I understood why.

The art they created was unique, and when I told the teacher how innovative her work was – and how my brain didn’t think that way – she told me the secret to making art is to not be scared of making a mess.

Immediately a bell rang in my head. I knew exactly what my problem was, why I couldn’t make great art with my kids at home.

Because I don’t like messes. 

The root of this is a perfectionist personality, a mindset I acquired as a teenager and will likely spend the rest of my life trying to overcome. Honestly, I think many women and girls share this mindset with me. At some point, we’ve bought into the allusion that life should be perfect – and anything less is wrong or not good enough.

I learned a lot about art, imperfection, and finding beauty after destruction while visiting Greece last summer with my family. Words can’t describe how breathtaking this country is, yet its beauty is not the shiny, polished, and perfected kind we’re used to seeing in America. No, in Greece there is a natural beauty that has evolved over time. Its charm and allure come from age, character, and a rich history.

Chances are you’ve heard of Santorini, one of Greece’s top tourist destinations. You may have seen the jaw-dropping pictures that look unreal, yet I can attest: the photos aren’t fake. Santorini really is this stunning.

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Boys Compete. Girls Compare.

One of my best friends in the world initially intimidated me with her beauty.

It sounds silly now because she’s incredibly kind and humble, but before I knew her and all I could base my opinion on was her exterior package, I was wary.

I met Mary Alice as a newlywed in Huntsville. I was a new girl in a new city, eager to make friends.

And when I saw her one night at a party – this tall, thin, gorgeous blonde surrounded by friends and family who were celebrating her move back home – I jumped to conclusions. She was so pretty I assumed she must be full of herself, a blonde snob who I’d probably have nothing in common with.

But as fate would have it, our husbands were fraternity brothers. And when she and her husband invited us to their home a few weeks later, I agreed to go for my husband’s sake.

To my surprise, that night was an answered prayer. Within two minutes of actually talking  to this gorgeous blonde, I realized I’d pegged her wrong. I immediately fell in love with her sweet nature, gentleness, and self-deprecating humor.

For months I’d prayed for a friend who I deeply and easily connected with, and little did I know, she’d be the one. She’d be the new friend who felt like an old friend thanks to that priceless gift called chemistry.

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Today, More Than Ever, Girls Need Good Guy Friends

A mother told me about an incident from her college days that could have ended tragically.

She didn’t drink in high school and was naïve as a college freshman, so when older girls in her sorority took her and some pledge sisters out and gave them each a pint of vodka, she obediently drank it.

Hours later, she passed out behind a dumpster. The girls who gave her the alcohol were nowhere to be found. Thankfully, a guy friend from high school was walking by and saw her. He picked her up and carried her back to her dormatory.

Another college girl was not a big drinker, yet her brother’s friend noticed her stumbling outside during a party and wandering off alone. He took her home to make sure she was safe, and only the next day did they realize that someone drugged her drink.

Then there was the college girl who needed a ride home from an off-campus party. She waited 45 minutes, and as she tried to get in the car of that night’s designated driver, a strong hand pulled her back.

It was a guy she’d taken to a formal, who told her, “Don’t get in that car because I saw that guy doing cocaine earlier.” This girl didn’t feel like waiting for another ride, but this guy insisted, so she stayed. On the way home, the designated driver hit a tree and severely injured his passengers.

What saved each of these girls was a guy who chose to do the right thing. A guy who knew them and felt compelled to look out for them like a sister.

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Mean is Not Funny

It was one of the meanest blog posts I’ve ever read – yet I found myself laughing.

Apparently I wasn’t alone because overnight, this blogger gained 20,000 Facebook followers. Many followers were people I knew, moms like me who were stressed out by the chaos of mid-December and craving comic relief.

The blogger’s timing was spot-on because she made us laugh about the quest to create “magical” holiday memories. Problem was, her sarcastic essay centered around another blogger’s article and her list of overachiever ideas for mischievous elves.

She shared the blogger’s name, linked to her website, called her white trash, and quipped about the ridiculousness of her suggestions. Because she was funny – and because so many moms felt overwhelmed and inadequate in creating these magical memories – her article went crazy viral. Everyone shared it, even women who would never speak this way themselves.

It didn’t hit me how wrong this frenzy was until the next day, when I suddenly felt ashamed and regretful for laughing along. The blogger she targeted was a real person with a genuine desire to help parents, and by no fault of her own, she’d become the laughingstock of the Internet.

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Girls, Don’t Settle for Bad Relationships

I had a friend in college who kept a quote on her bulletin board that I’d found in a magazine.

It reminded her to stay strong, to be mindful of the truth she knew deep down: that she deserved better than her current boyfriend, who often treated her poorly and made her cry. Their relationship was rocky, but since there were good moments and fun times too, it was hard for her to cut the cord and move on for good.

The quote was: It’s better to be by yourself for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong reasons. 

Today she is happily married, so we can laugh at this old mantra that helped her be brave. I’d forgotten about it myself, buried it in the past, until it resurfaced in recent years as I’ve re-entered the world of teens through my writing and life as a mom.

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Is Money Hurting Today’s Kids?

“The number one growing demographic of at-risk kids are teens who come from upper-middle class homes. Why? The more resources they have, the less resourceful they become. Possessions without perspective can lead to real trouble. If I were to do the parenting thing over, I would reward less and rewind more. Instead of giving them all this stuff, I would take the time to debrief experiences and offer perspective on them. Less ribbons and more reality… offered with tender, loving care.”

Tim Elmore, Five Changes I’d Make if I Could Parent Over Again


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Is Your Daughter Emotionally Ready for Instagram?

It was an innocent post of four girls who had gone to dinner, taken a picture, and posted it on Instagram.

Within minutes, one girl received a text from her mom asking her to take the picture down. The mom had received a text from another mom whose daughter was crying at home because she wasn’t invited to dinner, and she thought it’d be best if the picture was deleted.

I understand the mom’s intention. I know what it’s like to have a daughter who is scrolling through Instagram and realizes she was left out. Nobody likes to see their friends having fun without them. And for a mother there is nothing worse than seeing your child upset. 

But what I’ve realized about scenarios like this is how it doesn’t help the child when we hastily try to fix whatever makes them sad. If anything, we prevent them from developing the coping skills they need both now and in the future.

Because here’s the thing: If you’re on social media, you’re going to have moments where you feel left out, forgotten, or excluded. This fact remains true whether you’re 16, 46, or 90.

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Raising a Strong & Kind Child

I remember the incident clearly, doing cheer stunts in my family’s front yard with a babysitter from my older brother’s grade.

I was 9 years old, shy, and overweight. The babysitter had already stunted with my sisters, and she insisted that I try too. I didn’t want to, but after more prodding I finally relented.

What happened next was devastating.

“Ugh,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to lift me from under the armpits as I stood on her thighs, “she’s heavier than Alice, the top of our pyramid!”

I had worried this might happen – and that is why I had hesitated. But what pained me more than having this fear manifest was the careless remark my babysitter made.

You see, my brother is 7 years older than me. And at the tender age of 9, I was savvy enough to do the math and let this comparison to a 16-year-old girl do a number on my self-esteem and the body image I’d have for many years to come.

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Cast a Wide Net – and Be Kind to Everyone

My friend once got booted from a friend group because she didn’t have Asahi tennis shoes.

The story is laughable now, but when it happened in 7th grade, it crushed her. She’d worked so hard to get “in” with the right girls, and between her need for their approval and a lack of designer clothes, she was an easy target to pick on.

Her turning point came at school one day as her friends talked about her. Finally wising up, she looked around for new company. She spotted two girls sitting on a wall nearby, and though she didn’t know them well, they’d always been kind so she walked toward them. Immediately they embraced her and soon became the best of friends.

My friend found her happy ending for one big reason: she was friendly beyond her friend group. She didn’t paint herself into a corner by only being kind to a select group of girls. Girls often make this mistake as they find their people and form their squads. They get so tight with their inner circle they shut out everyone else, and when their circle hurts them or when changes happen, they have no where to go. Peers aren’t quick to embrace them because they burned too many bridges.

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Helping Your Daughter Find Real Friends

A mother once told me about her 6th grade daughter getting kicked out of her friend group over the summer because a new “leader” took over while their family was on vacation.

Clearly her daughter was hurt, and when the new school year started, she made new friends. Friends she could count on. Friends she could trust. Friends who wouldn’t drop her or suddenly turn their backs.

A few months later, her old friends wanted her back. They started being nice again, and while the girl found this satisfying, she also knew better. Being burned had taught her what a real friend looks like. And though she continued to be nice to her old friends, she didn’t want them back.

She told her mom, “They are my 50/50 friends, and I want to be with my real friends.”

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Be The Driver

The car I drive is white, but it might as well be yellow because most days of the week I am a taxi driver.

I don’t mind it, largely because of advice I heard from parents ahead of me when my kids were little. 

Through multiple conversations, I began to realize how spending time with my children in the car is a gift to be enjoyed, not a burden to be endured.

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What Makes a Guy a Keeper?

“What makes a marriage work is not the same thing as what makes a date work…You want somebody who falls in love with your soul and not your body or your pocketbook, because those things fade away.” T.D. Jakes

A Hollywood couple had announced their divorce, and it was all over the news.

In one article, the actress noted the charisma of her ex-husband, who reportedly had been unfaithful. With a link to this story, a high school teacher emailed me, saying it reminded her of something she once read in a magazine, where another Hollywood star said she wasn’t dating because there was plenty of charisma out there, but not much character – and there is a difference.

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Want to Help Your Daughter? Be Her Emotional Coach

“Girls who get a chance to talk about the abundant frustrations of their day usually feel better once they’ve unloaded their distress on you. Any adult who has spent dinnertime grumbling about a coworker, neighbor, or boss understands that sharing one’s true feelings at home makes it a lot easier to be charming out in public. Teenagers are no different. Having used you as their emotional dumping ground, they are prepared to return to school and play the part of the good citizen. Indeed, they may be able to act as a good citizen at school precisely because they are spending some of their time imagining the colorful complaints they will share once their school day has ended.”

Lisa Damour, author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

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My Peanut Allergy Child Can Now Eat Peanuts

Christmas has come early for my baby girl, Camille.

The child who was diagnosed at age 1 with a multitude of allergies can now eat peanuts. Recently, in the office of her allergist, she ate a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.

I’m still stunned by the size of this gift. 

Never did I think I’d write this article. Never did I imagine my daughter participating in this therapy, which I heard about over 4 years ago while interviewing an allergy researcher at UAB for an article.

This doctor was the first to tell me where food allergy research was headed. He said oral desensitization trials had taken off, and with doctors doing clinical trials to determine the best way to desensitize people, they could be ready for “prime time” in two to three years.

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Give Your Friends Room to Have a Bad Day

My friend texted me at 5 a.m. – then followed up with an email.

In both messages she apologized for a reaction she’d had the night before. Another mom had acted self-righteous toward her, and as she was reeling from that, she said she took it out on me.

I wasn’t angry because I knew her response was out of character. Still, I appreciated the apology. I was glad we had the chance to talk it out so the event didn’t come between us.

As soon as I could, I called my friend to assure her we were good. “Don’t worry about it one more second!” I said. She confessed she’d been up all night long worrying, mad at herself for not handling the situation better.

That part got to me.

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10 Things Parents of Middle Schoolers Should Know

I’m a fairly typical mom in how I felt when my first child started middle school.

I’d heard the horror stories and also the funny stories, like one mom telling me how she still gets hives when she drives by her child’s junior high. 🙂

Fortunately, we’ve had a good experience so far. The biggest challenge for my daughters has been learning to manage a more demanding schedule, and the biggest challenge for me is figuring out my role as a mom,

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Hey Girls, Don’t Discount the Quiet Guys

Over time I’ve come to notice that when teen girls discuss teen boys, they group them into 3 categories:

  • The “He’s so annoying” category (generally because they’re rude or they make fun of girls and think they’re being funny)
  • The “He’s really nice” category (a handful of boys achieve this label)
  • The “He’s nice, but he’s so quiet” category (a grouping I never thought about)

When it comes to category 3, the quiet boys, girls quickly move on to the next topic of conversation. They don’t see the potential or consider the possibility that one day, those quiet boys may blossom and prove to be something special. All they know is what they see today…and based on that, a friendship or future relationship seems highly unlikely.

And that is why I’ve started to tell girls: Don’t discount the quiet boys. Don’t give up on them this early. Some of the best men and dads you know were once the quiet boys in school.

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It’s Never Too Late to Say “I’m Sorry”

While driving my kids to school one day, I told them it was almost time for an annual lake trip our family takes with friends we see once a year.

Everyone got super-excited – except my youngest daughter. With a little prodding she admitted she was scared to go because of an argument she’d had the previous year with a girl her age. It was a silly fight, and she regretted how she acted.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “This is your chance to tell her you’re sorry. It’s never too late to say ‘I’m sorry.’ I have a friend who just apologized for a mistake she feels she made over 20 years ago.”

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2 Words for a Better School Year

A friend of mine once had jury duty and did not know a soul. When it came time to choose her seat, she did what most of us do.

She scanned the faces of potential jurors, saw a woman who reminded her of herself, and sat down by her.

Clearly there is nothing wrong with this. Very often when we’re instinctively drawn to people, there ends up being a chemistry or natural rapport that makes for easy conversation.

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My Big Fat Greek Vacation

Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustave Flaubert

My family and I are not world travelers, but recently we enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Greece that we’ll cherish for decades to come.

There were 17 people in our party: 10 cousins, 3 aunts, 3 uncles, and 1 YiaYia. We travelled with my husband’s family in honor of our late Papou, who used to talk about taking his kids and grandkids to the old country until the onset of Alzheimer’s cut that conversation short.

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An Encouraging Word for New Moms

Congratulations, momma! You did it. You’ve ushered a miracle into this world. That newborn baby in your arms is a game changer, a tiny slice of heaven and the purest thing you’ll ever know on this side of eternity.

My guess is that you spent your pregnancy preparing for this moment. You’ve read the books. Sought the advice. Chosen your pediatrician and educated yourself on baby gear.

Yet even so, you’re worried and overwhelmed. This world seems so unfit for a baby – especially your baby – and there’s too much that can go wrong.

So what does the future hold? What can you expect? Clearly, your family’s story will be unique, but what I can touch on common experiences and feelings, things I wish someone had told me when I become a mom.

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15 Things I’d Want a Son to Know

As a mom of four girls, I often write about raising daughters. And on many occasions, I’ve had moms with sons ask for insights related to boys.

Obviously, I don’t have first-hand experience, but I do know many parents who do a great job cultivating boys into men. Besides taking mental notes from them, I’ve developed a hypothetical list, things I’d want to instill in a son based on personal experiences, the qualities I like to see in a man, and what I’m learning about teen culture through my work with adolescent girls and books for them.

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20 Things College Girls Should Know

It was a college football game weekend, and as my friend walked down sorority row with her teenage daughter, her daughter took it all in.

The energy. The buzz. The sea of people dressed in the school colors, full of excitement and hope. Out of the blue, her daughter asked a question.

“Mom, what’s the hardest part of college?”

Her mother said the first thing that came to mind: Saying no.

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