Care and Feeding

My Teen and I Keep Butting Heads Over This Basic Safety Rule

A teenager rides a skateboard without a helmet on.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Maria Moroz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 13-year-old daughter has decided to learn how to skateboard. I remember kids getting into serious accidents doing tricks back in the 90s, so when I bought her the board I also bought a helmet and knee- and shoulder-pads and told her if she does anything more than an ollie, she would have to wear protective gear. She is mortified, and my husband says I’m overreacting. She didn’t give me a reason for why she won’t wear them other than that “the other kids don’t” and “it doesn’t look cool,” neither of which make me feel comfortable with risking her cracking her head on a concrete halfpipe. However, kids her age and younger are out there with no protection, so I’m wondering if it’s less dangerous than I think and I am ruining her fun. I’m pretty sure she’s just decided she’s interested in skateboarding because a girl she likes is a big skater, so I know it’s extra high stakes for her. I still think an adorable crush isn’t a good enough reason for risking a trip to the emergency room, but I’m open to more sport-knowledgeable parents telling me I’m overprotective.

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—Skater Mom

Dear Skater Mom,

I’m 100 percent on your side here. I get that your daughter wants to be cool and wants to impress her crush, but it isn’t worth potentially jeopardizing her health.

To illustrate this tragically, a few months ago a family friend was riding his bike to work and rode over a pothole. His bike flipped over and he landed on his head — and sadly, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. He’s still in a coma and if he ever gets out of it, his life will never be the same. Your daughter may believe that it will never happen to her, but I can promise you that my friend believed that it would never happen to him either.

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If you need to concede on something, you could concede on this: knee pads and elbow pads can be left at home, but a helmet is non-negotiable. Would you ever forgive yourself if your daughter suffered the same fate as my friend because you listened to her pleas about trying to look cool? We both know the answer to that. Also, I wouldn’t make any decisions based on what other kids are doing. Your only responsibility is to your child, not anyone else’s.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My father “Joe” is a baby boomer who was brought up in an emotionally abusive household. He was fairly hard on me but has softened a bit with age. He’s still pretty gruff in a way that feels abrasive to some folks—I mainly just ignore it.

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For the past few months my wife and I have been engaged in a home buying process that’s fallen through. We will be functionally homeless for about three months this summer unless something magically works out in our favor. Joe lives alone in my childhood home and it has multiple spare bedrooms—he’s offered it up to my wife and our two children for the duration of the time we haven’t moved into our new house yet.

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Here’s the problem: my children strongly dislike their grandpa. He loves them, but his gruffness comes off as “mean” to my kids who are raised with gentle parenting. He says things like “Stop doing that!” which is something my kids don’t usually hear. They’re scared of him and are convinced he hates them. I know this is untrue, and the difference is just in communication style, but both kids dread having dinner with him for one meal—I can’t imagine how living together for three months would fare. But we’re out of options and I don’t know what else to do.

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Is there any way this arrangement could work? Is there some way I can prep my kids in advance, and also have Joe tone it down for this summer? Or some other solution I haven’t thought of? Please help.

—Stuck in the Middle

Dear Stuck,

The first thing I’m wondering is if your dad knows how your kids feel about him. Sadly, self-awareness has become the exception instead of the rule nowadays, so he may be completely clueless about his behavior. I’m not a grandparent yet, but I know that I would be absolutely devastated if my future grandkids were scared of me and dreaded being around me — and I think any grandparent of sound mind reading this would feel the same way.

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You could start by pulling him aside to say, “Hey dad, this may be hard for you to hear, but I want you to know that my kids are scared of you, due to how you frequently snap at them. I know you don’t mean any harm and I know you love them, but I want you to be aware of it. How do you feel after hearing that?” The goal is to be direct and sensitive, while hopefully starting a productive dialogue in the process.

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I realize this could go a lot of ways, the best-case scenario being that he has an “oh crap!” moment and realizes that he needs to change for the sake of his relationship with his grandkids. You may think it’s far-fetched to teach an old dog new tricks so to speak—but it can happen when the stakes are high enough, and hopefully that will be the case here.

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Another scenario is that he gets offended by the accusation and/or the fact that you’re telling him how to behave in his own home after he’s doing your family a favor. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he does,  because that would annoy a lot of people—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it real with him. If that happens, I would try to steer the conversation back to solution-mode by saying, “I don’t want to offend you, but I want you to know how my kids are feeling. How do you suggest we make this work?” If he says something along the lines of, “Go find a hotel to stay in,” then you may have to search for a Plan B.

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However, if you decide to stay with your dad, you should also make sure that your kids are as well-behaved as possible. If you know that your kids trigger your dad by doing (or not doing) certain things, then you need to coach them to walk the line. Yes, I know that kids will be kids, but under his roof you have to follow his rules.

No matter how you look at this, protecting your kids’ mental health is without question the top priority here. If you don’t feel like you can foster a sense of psychological safety for your children in his home after speaking with him about your concerns, you absolutely should look elsewhere—whether you stay at a friend’s place, house sit for someone, or something else. Again, I truly hope it won’t come to that, because I think most parents/grandparents want to help out family members in need—but you never know.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

• If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

We are celebrating my daughter’s fourth birthday in a week, and her whole class is invited. As a rule of thumb and attempt to be inclusive, we always invite the whole class. This is her first birthday after the pandemic so she’s been really excited about it. Anyway, one of her friends’ moms messaged me saying her son can make it. I told her that’s great and let her know we’re asking one parent to be there since it’s a big place and we’ve invited her whole class. She replied saying no problem, and proceeded to tell me that she’s celebrating her son’s birthday at the same place with only a few friends, and that she hopes my daughter isn’t disappointed when she hears the kids talking about it. She then said that we weren’t up for a “whole class party” emphasizing my words. Her response just didn’t sit well with me.

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I asked her if she could extend the invite to my daughter as she will be disappointed and it will come across as unfair to her (seemed as if the party was shortly after hers), while I completely understand it is a small party. I also know the venue owner is super flexible on having an additional kid and there’s normally a range for parties. To which she replied that it is still not possible to include my daughter and has sent stickers for the rest of the class. While she recognized and appreciated my efforts to be inclusive, she maintained that her son’s party is only for a small number of kids and hoped I could understand that this is the best decision for her family at this time. I was disappointed but not surprised, and let her know that while I appreciate her gesture to send stickers, it is not good enough and I cannot defend this to my daughter. I let her know that perhaps it’s best if her son doesn’t come to the party as well, so it doesn’t come across as unfair to my daughter. I told her I hope she understood that this is the best decision for my family at this time.

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I just got a response saying “Wow, ok.” Do you think I handled the situation in the right way? While I don’t expect my daughter to be invited to every single party because we had the means to do so, the way this mother responded to me was very entitled and not communicated very well. It had a very “sorry, not sorry” tone. I honestly felt attacked for being inclusive (by her emphasis on ‘whole class’). Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks for listening!

—Inclusive Mom

Dear Inclusive,

Obviously, I don’t know this mom at all, and there’s certainly a chance that she’s entitled and aloof — but what if she didn’t host a large party due to financial reasons? As you know, those birthday parties can be expensive, and not everyone has the means to invite an entire class of kids. I know her comments of “not being up for a whole class party” may seem rude and condescending, but maybe that’s her way of saying she can’t afford a whole class party.

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I totally understand that it’s a shot to your ego that your daughter wasn’t on the short list of invitees (it would be a shot to my ego if I was in your shoes), but it doesn’t seem like this kid is one of your daughter’s best friends, so is it worth it to “retaliate” by not inviting him? I would probably choose to take the high road and continue with the plan to invite the whole class without exception.

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You mentioned it would be difficult to defend this to your daughter, but I think it could be used as an opportunity to teach her that you can’t control what other families do, but you will do your part to be as inclusive as possible. Of course if the kid is a bully, racist, misogynist, etc., then all bets are off regarding invitations — but that doesn’t seem like it’s the case here.

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One other thing to consider is it seems like this exchange took place via text or email. We both know that tone is easily misconstrued with the written word, so maybe a quick phone call or an in-person meeting at school pickup or drop-off would’ve been more effective to avoid any misunderstandings.

It may not seem like it, but I absolutely empathize with you. My daughters’ preschool also had an “everybody or nobody” rule in terms of inviting classmates to birthday parties. I followed that rule by inviting everyone to my kids’ parties, but I was one of a few parents who did, and that bothered the heck out of me. In hindsight, I probably did not do it because I’m a rule-follower, but because I was the only Black parent at that fancy preschool and I didn’t want to be singled out for not falling in line.

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What’s done is done. Going forward, the last thing you want to do is cause any unnecessary drama for you and your child due to this, so you may want to clear the air with the mom if you’re up for it. Being the bigger person doesn’t always feel good, but at least it will help to end any potential awkward interactions in the future.

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Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 16-year-old girl with a 10-year-old brother, “Neil.” Yesterday over dinner, in response to a conversation we were having about the Brooklyn subway shooting, Neil said something along the lines of “Black people are more likely to commit crimes,” which I found upsetting and incredibly concerning. I explained to him why that was racist, why it was untrue, and how those types of prejudices are harmful, but I’m worried that this statement could just be the tip of the iceberg. We are not white, but we live in an area where the vast majority of people are. He also attends a small private school which is also majority white, and I know it only has one or two Black kids in total. We are extremely lucky to not have to deal with overt racism regularly.

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I am in the middle of my junior year, and have been kept extremely busy with school, activities, and the general college rush. Most of the little time I get at home is spent doing homework or sleeping. I haven’t heard these types of comments before from him, but since I haven’t had much time to spend with him lately, I don’t know what other prejudices he could have developed. His school, outside of talking about the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, doesn’t appear to have any real discussion about racism in the modern day. My mother tends not to talk about subjects that make her uncomfortable (like race, apparently) and when I asked her if she’d had any conversations with him about anti-Black prejudice, she got defensive and wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

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It appears that I’m the only readily available person in his life that is capable and willing to provide him with any sort of an antiracist education. So, my question is, do you have any ideas or advice as to how to go about this? Is there anyone I can enlist for help? Books would be much appreciated—we used to read together regularly, and although I don’t have much time now, I can restart the practice if needed. I’m also severely socially anxious and often socially inept, so a script for starting conversations would also be really great.

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—Concerned in Connecticut

Dear Concerned,

I think it’s awesome that you’re stepping up to help your little brother, because quite frankly, he’s at the age where he’s in danger of creating concrete biases that will last him a lifetime.

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I conduct anti-racism workshops for a living, and whenever I come across a kid who has anti-Black biases like your brother, I try to determine the root cause. More often than not, it comes from the parents, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Does he have a phone with easy access to the internet? Is he learning this from his friends? Hopefully he will be upfront and honest with you, and then you can address it (more on this later). If he’s unwilling to come clean, you could probably figure it out on your own with some light detective work, especially since most teenagers like you are so internet-savvy.

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Once you determine who or what is behind this, I would bring this up to your mom as soon as possible. Trust me, I understand more than anyone that a lot of grown adults refuse to talk about race and racism because it makes them feel uncomfortable—and quite frankly, those people are the reason why racism is still around right now. However, if you present your mom with proof that your brother is being fed racist lies by outsiders, she would probably take it seriously and act accordingly. I know that I would flip my lid if someone was teaching my kids to hold bigoted beliefs about any marginalized group, and I think most other parents would too.

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Just so you’re aware, I went to one of those private schools with a handful of Black students, so I know firsthand how bad racism can be on your brother’s campus. This shouldn’t fall on you, but someone (preferably an adult) should advise the school to begin a social justice curriculum as well as anti-racism courses to teachers and staff and the school community.

Until then, don’t make this more complicated than it has to be. Simply offer your brother love, support, and keep a watchful eye on him in case he heads down the wrong path. From what you’re telling me, he isn’t getting the support he needs from his mom, so he’s probably looking elsewhere to feel like he belongs. I know your schedule is busy, but I also know that you can carve out some time for your baby brother in that regard.

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Hopefully that comment was just a blip on the radar, but I think you’re doing the right thing by taking it seriously.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

My husband runs his own business and works crazy hours. I understand his love of peace and quiet, but he has told me he is “done” with going out. He comes home, eats the dinner I make, and falls asleep in his armchair. Sometime around midnight, he comes to bed. He refuses to socialize at all: not with neighbors, at church, or with my family. If I go alone, I get questions about my husband, and when I get back, I get a guilt trip. (“You go out too much.”) I am much more extroverted than my husband, but lately it feels like he is punishing me for it. We are both in our early 30s. I want to enjoy life and my work and my marriage while we are both still active enough to enjoy it!

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