Nicole Cliffe is out today, so Slate executive editor and superparent Allison Benedikt stepped in to answer a few letters. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am a 14-year-old girl. My parents previously mentioned allowing me to get Instagram in ninth grade, which I am going into. With the pandemic going on, I have only been able to see a few friends and classmates while socially distancing, and I really miss being able to talk to everyone and hear what they’re up to. I think social media will help with my feelings of loneliness and let me share news and updates (I beat my best cross-country time! I socially distanced with a friend at the beach!) without having to awkwardly sneak it into a text conversation, which my parents tell me to do. They also say I can’t have social media because it could be dangerous, but I would have a private account they could follow! My dad distrusts social media and says that’s why I can’t have Instagram until I’m 18, but Instagram is for 13 and up! I feel so lonely and frustrated. I just wanna see what everyone’s doing and talk to people whose numbers I don’t have. I’m tempted to make a secret account, but I’m terrible with secrets. How can I convince them to allow me to get Instagram and other social media? I really miss my classmates.
My first instinct as a parent is to explain to you why your parents are right. Social media can be dangerous! Your dad is correct to distrust it! But you didn’t ask me to weigh in on the battle between you and your folks. You asked me how you can persuade them to let you get Instagram. So here’s my advice: First, download “A Parent’s Guide to Instagram” and ask your parents to read it. Given that this document is put out by Instagram, it’s absolutely not meant to dissuade nervous parents from blocking their kids’ access. But it sounds official, the families in the pictures look really happy, and it might persuade your parents that this Instagram company actually has some pretty good ideas about online safety after all. Second, offer a modified version of Insta you’d be comfortable with. If they are worried about online bullying, for instance, promise to block comments from all of your posts. That’s probably not the version of Insta you’re most excited about—it would suck not to get all the love for beating your cross-country time!—but it shows you are willing to compromise, and it’s something they can check up on, since they’ll be following your private account. Third, do not present access to social media as potentially life-changing. Even if you think it will change your life, parents find that very depressing, so it’s not convincing. Finally, start incessantly begging for something more objectionable than Instagram, like a very violent video game. If your parents are anything like me, they will eventually feel they have to give in to something (this might not be until your birthday or Christmas), and the lesser evil will be it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have two daughters, “Liz” and “Sara,” who are 5 and 7. They get along well at home, but when we’re around other people (family members, groups of friends, at the park), they’ll get into big fights over something as little as Liz having two extra french fries. I think it’s for attention, since it usually means everyone stares at them or tries to help wrangle them, but it’s a little mortifying and often ends our outings early. My husband and I have tried making sure everything they get is shared equally, but they always decide that one of them got more and then start arguing. This is getting incredibly annoying, and we really need some advice.
I feel you. Whyyyyyyy are kids like this? Perfectly normal at home and then monstrous when anyone else can see them!? I think the answer is … they’re usually not. I would bet all of my child-centered mortification that the thing you are noticing is not the difference between behavior inside your house and at the park with your friends, but rather that your friends can see what your kids are really like, which is often quite annoying. I have not learned this lesson myself, so it’s rich for me to pass it on, but every time I’m really uncomfortable with my kids’ behavior around friends and family, I try to remember that it’s my own desire for everyone to see my kids as perfect that’s really the problem (except for one nightmare trip with friends to Fire Island and another time). My guess is that you apologize for your kids during these outings and your friends brush you off because there’s nothing to apologize for, but you don’t believe them. And my guess is that you are never happier than when someone else’s kid is throwing a fit at the picnic. I totally get it! But, again, this isn’t really about your kids.
Last thing, though: You can never win by “making sure everything they get is shared equally.” One of them will always feel slighted, even if you show them with a ruler that you cut the damn donut exactly in half. I would really stop trying for 100 percent fairness and instead let them learn to deal with unfairness. It might mean even more tantrums in the short term, but it will be worth it eventually, or so I’m told.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 6-year-old has started picking her scabs. Now that she’s got some mosquito bites, it’s gotten really bad. I’ve tried to explain about infection and scars. I’ve tried to use positive reinforcement and reward her for not picking. I’ve tried Band-Aids and long pants to cover them so she won’t think about it. But the picking hasn’t stopped. Today I put 10 Band-Aids on her legs. Is this normal? What do I do?
—Pick a Winner
Dear Pick a Winner,
Your question is actually quite personal to me, given that I, like your daughter, am a picker. I pick my nails; I pick my cuticles; I pick my lips; I pick any piece of skin that is hanging and any piece of skin that could be hanging were I to pick at it. As my parents and husband and children will attest, it’s a very gross habit, and a very difficult one to break. And while I admire your desire to just fix the problem rather than analyze it (a quality that is very nonpicker of you), I think the question you probably should be asking is: Why is she picking? Has something recently changed for your daughter that might be causing her some anxiety—perhaps a pandemic that has completely upended her routine and drastically altered her social life? I ask because excessive or compulsive picking can be a sign of real stress; it can’t hurt to talk to your pediatrician about whether that’s what might be going on here and, if so, what steps you can take to address the underlying issue.
Regarding what you’ve tried already: As a picker, I’m not surprised that reasoning with your daughter—explaining about infection and scarring—hasn’t had a real impact. Picking is often something that the picker really can’t control, which means that even an awesome reward isn’t going to make a difference, and logic certainly isn’t going to do it. The good news is that if your daughter is just picking because she happened to get a ton of mosquito bites this summer, summer’s now over, so she’s not going to be getting more bites. And if she’s instead picking because she’s feeling a little stressed, well, that’s pretty normal too. It’s a stressful time! At least this new habit, bloody and unpleasant as it is, has flagged for you that she might need a little help. As a mom—and I know this sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true—it’s the scars I can’t see that worry me most.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I live in an apartment complex with a mix of families and single or childless folks. With everyone working from home and not having child care, I typically hear a baby, toddler, or young child crying at least once a day. The noise isn’t an issue (I know being a parent during a pandemic is a huge challenge), but I just find it so sad to hear! I realize kids cry for mainly nonserious reasons, so I’m being illogical, but it can be upsetting to hear a child wailing in distress. Any suggestions for how to think about this crying differently so I feel less emotionally affected by it? I think part of my reaction is due to the fact that I used to work in mental health care supporting teenagers dealing with trauma, and also that the pandemic has me feeling emotionally on edge all the time.
—Irrationally Concerned About Crying
Dear Irrationally Concerned,
I agree: This is irrational! It’s also very, very sweet. To be honest, I’m surprised you are hearing the crying only “at least once a day.” With a bunch of babies, toddlers, and young kids in your building and no one going off to day care or school, I would think it would be pretty near constant. (I can tell you that at my house, with a 7-, 9-, and 11-year-old, it is!) It sounds like you understand kids cry all the time and that the crying you are hearing is normal, so I’m not sure what I can tell you to ease your mind. But if we’re talking about very young kids, you might want to consider that crying is one of only a few ways they can communicate. Hungry, tired, wet diaper, just want that toy across the room but haven’t figured out how to get there—waaaaah! So when you hear a neighbor kid wailing, instead of wondering if they are in emotional distress, maybe you can just be proud of them for getting their needs across loud and clear. Also, as you no doubt know, sometimes a good cry just feels really good.
Classic Care and Feeding
My wife and I had a disagreement about whether to learn the gender of our second child. (We did learn for the first.) Chatting with family on the phone, I said I wanted to know, and my wife said she wasn’t sure—that she was thinking about being surprised—and made a joke about how the gynecologist wasn’t going to tell me without her permission. Afterward, I asked my wife if she was serious, and she said yes, absolutely: While she very much wanted to make the decision whether to know together, she thought it was important that we do the same thing.
I’m pretty firmly on the side of wanting to know, since it seems like one less uncertain thing in a process with a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t like the feeling that she was making the decision for me. It doesn’t seem to me like that big of a deal if I know and she doesn’t. But to her, that feels like I’m the one deciding for both of us—that I’ve made up my mind to know regardless of what she thinks. What’s your take?