Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is 13 years old and in 8th grade. She’s responsible and I trust her. The issue is that there’s this boy that she “likes,” and he also likes her. They text, and I saw in her messages (which she knows I read) that he asked if she wanted to FaceTime that week. That week we were out of town on a ski trip with extended family, so she said she couldn’t. I have restrictions on her phone so that she can’t call or FaceTime anyone without permission from me, so I know it’s only a matter of time before the question comes up if she can FaceTime him.
She’s my oldest kid, and I’m at a loss as to what I should do when the question comes up. Say she can’t FaceTime him? Let her FaceTime but stay in the same room listening to their conversation? Say she can’t call from her room? When I was her age, I had my first boyfriend, but times were different then and with the power of technology there are more bad things that could happen to her than what I had back when I was a teenager. I’m just not sure how to proceed here.
— It’s Not You I Don’t Trust, It’s (Maybe) Him
This is one of those questions that kinda made me wonder, Is this real? I think it might be, so I’m going to tell you NO to all three: No, don’t tell your 13-year-old that she can’t FaceTime a kid in her class. No, don’t forbid her to take the call in her room. No, do not stay and listen to their conversation! (Why on earth would you want to?)
Saying that your daughter can’t have a private phone conversation feels like an extreme overreaction to her crush on a classmate (not to mention an impossible rule to enforce). It is also, frankly, a shortcut. You want to head off some imaginary bad thing that hasn’t happened, when the right thing to do is to just be a parent and have actual conversations (plural; ongoing) with your child about responsibility, privacy, boundaries, and consent. Whatever your concerns or fears about having a teenage daughter who’s not a little girl anymore, you don’t get to skip the whole talking/parenting step just because it might feel easier or less scary to just forbid contact with boys.
You say that you trust your daughter, but I have to say, it kind of sounds like you don’t. And I think it’s worth asking yourself why. If she hasn’t done anything to justify this lack of trust, it would be good to work on your issues and try to course-correct now, so that the rest of her teenage years aren’t marred by overcontrol or undue suspicion on your part. If I were you, I would stop reading her texts (unless you ever have a strong reason to check them—e.g., specific grave concerns about her mental health or physical safety); let her talk to friends without you looking over her shoulder; and work on nourishing an open, trusting relationship that is based on you actually talking with and listening to her as opposed to snooping on her phone and conversations. Your daughter needs to know that she can trust you and tell you important things. If you keep giving her reasons to feel that she can’t, you’ll have much more to worry about than a FaceTime call.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My 8-year-old son started at a new school this year. He has autism. During the pandemic, when nothing was in person, we were advised by his developmental pediatrician to make sure he went to school in person, so we had him attend Kindergarten and first grade at a private school. He had an Individualized Education Program in preschool due to his autism, but received minimal services—only 15 minutes per week of social skills therapy. Everything else we did outside of the school system, as his needs were not considered severe enough to qualify for occupational therapy, speech therapy for social language, psychotherapy, etc. We have continued these private services even now.
At the end of first grade, he was acting out a lot (meltdowns, spitting on another child, shoving kids in after school). The private school was unequipped to handle this, which prompted our transition back to public school. We had an IEP meeting this year and he was up for re-evaluation, so we went ahead with that. Now the school wants to remove his IEP completely because he is doing so well. The evaluation by the school psychologist says that “It is highly unlikely he has autism given his sense of humor,” and states that “we do not discount the mother’s concerns”—basically, because my kid thinks things are funny and holds it together at school, the psychologist believes he doesn’t have autism or need an IEP and I must be overreacting. My son’s initial autism diagnosis was made by an autism psychologist and developmental pediatrician, and confirmed in testing by the school system while he was in preschool.
They pushed for a meeting a few days later, and I have postponed it and am looking for an independent advocate, but I would appreciate any advice in the meantime. My son started taking an SSRI over the summer, which has been miraculous. We still see meltdowns and fine/gross motor delays, tics and toe walking—typically triggered by stress or illness, and mostly at home. An OT is teaching him to type because of his grip/motor fatigue issues. In his testing, he was found to be in the 95th percentile for IQ but 23rd percentile for processing speed—processing speed has been low since his diagnosis, and hasn’t improved with time—and I worry he won’t be able to keep up with the pace or testing in third grade. We are still paying out of pocket and using insurance for all the private services, but I worry that my kiddo will eventually fall through the cracks. The school and his teacher are both supportive and very respectful of his need to leave loud situations, but given the ending to his last school year, this all feels so fragile and precarious to us right now.
— Mom Doesn’t Find It Funny
A pediatrician once told me that my child probably wasn’t autistic because “she’s affectionate and has good eye contact!” Spoiler: My child is definitely autistic. Plenty of autistic people are funny. Many autistic kids excel academically. It doesn’t mean they aren’t autistic. (I know you know this, even if your school psychologist doesn’t, but of course there are as many different ways to be autistic as there are autistic individuals.) It’s great that your son’s current teacher is so supportive—and I’m sure that’s partly why he’s doing so well!—but you can’t count on that every year; teachers and even schools can change, whereas an Individualized Education Program states what a student is legally entitled to regardless of a particular educator’s or administrator’s approach. As you noted, the curriculum and testing will only get more rigorous, and your son has many more years of schooling ahead of him.
I am neither an educational advocate nor a lawyer, and I know that school systems are always under pressure to stay within increasingly tight budgets and can’t offer IEP services that aren’t genuinely needed. But your child’s success this year may not be evidence that he no longer needs an IEP; it could just mean that his IEP is doing what it’s supposed to. In any case, I think it’s important to consider what specific services he stands to lose if he no longer has an IEP, and make a list of anything you think is really essential for him to retain. It sounds as though he hasn’t been receiving much in the way of school-based therapies, but that doesn’t mean that none of his goals, supports, or accommodations are crucial to his progress.
When I spoke with Tim Villegas, director of communications at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, he thought that removing your child’s IEP now might be premature. He pointed out that you can have an IEP with very few goals, or even just one goal. “It could be appropriate to tie some IEP goals to social/emotional learning standards,” Villegas said, “and make sure he has all the support he needs in those specific areas.” He added you should let the school know about issues you’re seeing at home, because at any point some or all of those issues could transition to school. I assume the current school team is aware of the behavioral challenges that cropped up at your son’s former school, but if not, you can make sure those are documented. They should also know about all the work he’s doing outside of school—all the private services you’re paying for, some of which are probably helping him “hold it together at school,” as you said—and you may want to provide any relevant reports or evaluations from your child’s doctor or therapists that can help document his needs.
In your position, I think I’d also worry about losing the IEP so soon after returning to public school, especially following such a difficult first-grade year. That said, let’s say that your son is still doing well academically and there are no major behavioral issues at school a year or two from now—even if you and the school team then agree that he doesn’t need the specialized instruction and accountability regarding specific goals that public schools are required to provide under an IEP, you could decide that you want him to receive support and accommodations through a 504 plan (a fact Tim Villegas reminded me of). You have the right to request another evaluation at any time if you feel that IEP services might be needed again. The most important thing is that your child gets the support he needs to continue learning and thriving. Good luck.
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From this week’s letter, I Can’t Believe How My In-Laws Are Treating Our New Baby: “A bit of nervousness we get, but this just seems weird.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My son “James” and his best friend “Devin” are 13. Devin moved here about two years ago from a different state. Both kids are fans of their home state’s sports teams, and a big part of their friendship is friendly ribbing about their sports preferences. Devin moved here just after his father passed away. His mother “Sharon” wanted a fresh start. All three kids still heavily identify with their hometown. Part of the reason that Devin is so proud of his favorite team is because he used to go see games with his dad.
James had been playing video games at Devin’s house one day, and I was surprised when he came home crying. From what James and Sharon have told me, James’s team lost a game and Devin was joking about it. Usually, James would have taken the joke in stride, but James was already pretty upset that day. James responded to Devin with a joke that was more of an insult. Devin responded with a few more lighthearted insults (“four eyes,” jokes about the local accent and team colors) until he realized that James was legitimately upset. Devin told him to calm down, which made James mad. James made a very crude “joke” about the manner in which Devin’s dad died. Obviously, beyond the pale. Devin screamed at James to get out of his house, at which point Sharon intervened and decided it would probably be best for James to go home.
It’s been a week. James is wracked with guilt about what he said. Devin’s been avoiding him at school. Sharon called me the other day. She’s been worried because Devin doesn’t really have any other friends at school and he’s been struggling a lot since the fight. Sharon wants James to apologize to Devin so that they can go back to being friends. I love that idea, except that it’s clear from his actions and what Sharon’s said that James hurt Devin deeply and he doesn’t want to hear an apology right now. I don’t like the idea of forcing Devin to hear an apology that he doesn’t want, but both Sharon and James want this really badly (he overheard my conversation with Sharon). Should I let this happen?
— Waiting for the Right Time to Apologize
Dear Waiting for the Right Time,
First, I assume you’ve already talked with James at length about how badly he hurt his friend, how unacceptable his comment was, and how it’s not okay to say terrible things to people (friends or otherwise) just because he’s upset with them.
I get that you don’t want to burden Devin with seeing James or if he doesn’t want to. But James does owe his friend a heartfelt, no-excuses apology. It could possibly be written in a letter if Devin really doesn’t want to see him or hear an apology in-person. If Sharon talks with Devin and he’s truly not open to either scenario right now, it’s okay to wait a bit. But I do think it is important for James to acknowledge what he did, take full responsibility for it, and say he’s sorry at the earliest opportunity.
Of course, he also needs to understand—as does Sharon—that an apology won’t necessarily lead to forgiveness, or the two boys being close friends again. It’s up to Devin whether or not he forgives James. Even if he does, it might take some time. It’s possible that he may never really feel as comfortable with James after what he said. This might be a very painful lesson for your son to learn, but it’s still an important one: Sometimes you need to offer an unreserved apology, expecting nothing of the wronged party except that they allow you to apologize, not because you are hoping for a specific outcome but because it’s simply the right thing to do.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
Our son was born in March 2022. Within a week of him being born, my husband’s aunt contacted us to ask what size he was (his family tends to have big babies that are 3-to-6-month-sized at/shortly after birth). We told her he’d be in newborn clothes for the first couple weeks then start moving up through sizes. In October (seven months later!), we received a box from her containing a variety of 0-to-3-month clothing. By then, of course, he wasn’t that size anymore, so we passed the clothes along to a friend of mine who’s expecting a baby soon and sent them a thank-you note, figuring they probably bought the clothes just after he was born then got delayed in sending them.
Two weeks later, his aunt texted us to say she hadn’t seen any pictures of the baby in the new clothes yet. I responded that unfortunately he’d already outgrown that size, but we had found a set of expectant parents to pass them to and they loved them. She never responded. At Thanksgiving, a family member asked what the baby could use for Christmas and we said that gifts absolutely weren’t expected, but if people did want to get him anything, 12-to-18-month clothes would be appreciated. His aunt made a “joke” about how maybe they’ll fit and he’ll get to wear them this time. Later, I heard her telling the relative who’d asked about gifts not to bother getting us baby anything, as we wouldn’t appreciate it and would probably just give it to someone else. When she saw me standing there, she said I should have told her the correct size so her gift could’ve been put to good use—or, when it wasn’t the correct size, I should’ve returned it to her, as she wanted our baby to have those clothes, not some random person’s baby. I know the sizing mix-up isn’t my fault, as it’s unrealistic to expect someone’s baby to stay the same size for seven months, but is it standard practice to return a gift if it can’t be used? I figured it was now our gift to use as we found appropriate, but now she kind of has me questioning that.
— Size 9-12 Months Now
Dear 9-12 Months,
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, but there is just something kind of hilarious about your husband’s aunt sending you a box of essentially-newborn-sized clothing for your 7-month-old (especially since you mentioned babies in the family run big). If she had a better sense of humor, she would be able to laugh about this, too. Standard practice for gifts that can’t be used is to take your gift receipt and exchange them, but I suppose she didn’t include a gift receipt. In any case, no one goes around returning gifts to the sender—that could actually come across as rude. And it is patently absurd to expect parents of an infant to spend their nonexistent leisure time packing up and mailing unused/unwanted gifts to their relatives!
I think it was kind of you to pass on the clothes to someone who could actually use them. Now that you know how touchy this aunt is, you should probably avoid telling her anything about your well-intentioned regifting practices in the future. But you didn’t do anything wrong by not sending the clothes back to her, and you don’t need to feel guilty now.
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