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“Dad, can you take me to the game?  I need to be there in ten minutes.”

“Mom, can you drop me off at Maddie’s across town at 5pm and pick me up at 7:30?”

“I need a ride to the store to grab a poster board for my project due tomorrow.”


School assignments, social gatherings, sports, and after school activities all seem to be more abundant as your teen gets older.  With the number of places your teen needs to be and fewer teens acquiring their first license under age eighteen, how are students getting to and from their extracurricular events? That responsibility has fallen squarely in the laps of moms and dads.  

If constantly serving as a taxi isn’t appealing, you have an opportunity to transition the responsibility of getting to and from events to your teen. With each new task you give to your budding adult, you want to make sure they hear your heart and know the why behind this decision. It is important to make it clear that they are not an inconvenience to you. However, in their current way of thinking, they are relying on you to take them to and fro on a whim with little to no planning. This is not how life works. If they want you to take them somewhere, they need to ask respectfully, offer a way to clarify (note on the counter, family online calendar or app, weekly printed calendar on the fridge), and have a plan to get a ride in the other direction so you only have to do one trip. When you help them understand that until they have purchased their own car, they will have plenty of chances to work out their own transportation and you are just helping them get ahead of the curve by starting now.  

After you have explained the “why,” it is necessary to help them talk through the “how.” Amazingly, this is not obvious to all teens. Because they have always been driven to and from everything, they think that is just the way it is. Asking them to come up with ways they could get to a friend’s house and how they would work out each is a good indicator of their thinking. Some kids will mention walking or riding a bike. Some may think of the city bus, Uber or Lyft, or getting a ride with a friend. All of these are viable options, and helping your teen work through some scenarios based on the places they go most often will open their eyes to the possibilities. What if instead of coming home from school for fifteen minutes to grab their practice equipment, they took it to school and got a ride home with the student who lives within walking distance to the practice field? Instead of you driving them to the arena for a big concert (which will take you twice as long as normal based on the traffic) they arranged a meeting spot for everyone to get dropped off at a public transportation stop and they took the bus or train together to the event? When we put the responsibility on them to figure it out, they realize a little inconvenience on their part can save tons of time for others driving and can possibly be fun.  


It is important to go over family rules and guidelines about who they are and are not allowed to ride with. If your state has a graduated license program, be familiar with it, and let your teen know what the law is and how they are held accountable. They can only ride with a friend if that friend has the legal ability to drive other teens. This is a good time to cover drinking and driving and to offer that if your teen is ever in a situation where they need a ride to avoid riding with someone who is under the influence, you would willingly come pick them up with no further consequences.  This can be a life-saving conversation.  

Teaching your teen to work out their own transportation is a life skill that will serve them well. If our goal is to work ourselves out of a job, this is just one of many steps in that process. Each responsibility we shift from our plate to theirs brings them one step closer to becoming a well-functioning adult. 

Curfew: 10:00 pm on weeknights. 11 pm on weekends.

No video games except from 8-9 pm.

Homework time is from 3-5 daily.

No Social Media until you are 17.

Rules. Rules. Rules.

How many kids do you know who love rules?

I haven’t met very many kids who like rules. But we all need boundaries for our behavior. As we work toward raising kids ready for real life, how can we switch the paradigm from a list of rules to a set of equations where their input and choices influence their outcomes?

When you remember our own childhood, you probably think of playing on the neighborhood playground after school, coming up with games or playing sports with a modified set of rules. Today’s children spend more time in structured than unstructured activities. Instead of drawing boundaries for a field with sticks and working out the details of what constitutes a home run or a goal, they play on chalked off fields with coaches instructing them. Instead of using Legos to come up with their version of a house or helicopter, many “engineers” follow the intricate instruction booklets included with every new boxed set. Instead of creating a town for Barbies or stuffed animals, television and video games fill the after school hours for many children.

We need to give kids room to create their own rules.

Darell Hammond, who lived in a group home as a youngster, founded the non-profit KaBoom to encourage communities to improve the lives of children. He urges kids to “get off the soccer field and onto the playground. Children need to get out of the gym and into neighborhood stickball games. We need to give kids room to create their own rules, set their own terms, and move their bodies in their own ways.” When kids are empowered to make their own rules, they learn executive function skills and are more likely to follow them because they believe them to be more reasonable than imposed rules.

What would it look like if we switched from making rules to helping our children follow equations?

How do we maintain order in our homes and yet allow our children to participate in making and maintaining the boundaries? Tim Elmore of Leading the Next Generation give some suggestions.

One thought is, take an age-old parent/teen dispute. Perhaps instead of having a curfew for teenagers, we could have some parameters around what time they come home. For example: before you leave, we want to know where you will be, who you will be with, and an approximate time you will be home. If you find you will be more than half an hour late, text us to let us know. As long as you are reasonable with these guidelines, you don’t need to have a set curfew time. Seems a bit scary as a parent to not know exactly when your son or daughter will be home, but if we want them to be able to navigate managing their own time in the future, this is a good step.

Another thought is what to do about video games or social media time? That’s another doozy. As a parent, it is much easier on us to have rules around these issues so we can try to manage them. However, learning how to manage oneself online is going to be a vital skill for everyone in this generation. It is prudent to allow tweens and teens to manage themselves while they are still at home and have parents to guide them. Because we each currently have various gaming and screen time rules, an equation for these will look different for each family. Things to consider might be: having a list of responsibilities to be completed before screen time is allowed, letting your older kids determine how much screen time they think is reasonable, and then asking them how they will manage sticking to their limit. With younger children you might have an equation that allows a one-to-one or one-to-one-half ratio for earning screen time. If they read/play outside/do chores for an hour, then they earn commensurate screen time to use at their discretion.

When kids are involved, there is more compliance.

If we change the paradigm from setting rules in an attempt to control our child’s behavior to discussing boundaries and equations for achieving a mutually agreeable goal, we may find we have fewer arguments. When kids are involved in making the equations, you set them up to develop executive function both in negotiating the parameters and in learning how to manage themselves within their new freedoms.

Webster’s defines safari as “the caravan and equipment of a hunting expedition especially in Eastern Africa.”

But it is also defined as a “journey or expedition.

For the purposes of family fun, we will go with definition number two.

However, there are a few added elements to a family safari. You must have:

  1.  A direction

  2.  A camera

  3.  A beverage of choice for each participant

  4.  An attitude of discovery and adventure

Get ready for a family fun adventure!

A safari doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and start with malaria shots and updated passports. You have a safari just outside your front door.

In our family, we have a special definition of “safari,” and if your family chooses to adopt it, we promise you will have tons of fun and make some etched memories that will last a lifetime. Family fun can be hard to come by as kids get older and schedules take over the calendar. But the kind of safari we are talking about can be squeezed in between swim practice and a birthday party, or a trip to the dentist and a visit to the grandparents.

Want an excuse to connect with your kids of all ages? Grab your best hat and let’s go.

The safari starts in your driveway.

Load up all your people and whatever you need for a day (or several hours if that is what you have available). Make sure someone has a camera to capture the moments and surprises. If your children have phones or electronic devices, leave them at home. This may cause irritation at first, but once you get going, they will get over it. The point is to be together and in the moment, not perfecting the photos for an Instagram post.

First stop is your favorite watering hole (or drive through) to make sure everyone has a beverage. Choose a direction. This should not be cause for a family feud. You can simply elect one person, perhaps the youngest, to choose north, south, east, or west. For advanced safari-goers, you may also choose double directions like northwest or southeast. Then your trusted safari leader, AKA driver, finds the closest road headed in that direction, and you’re off.

There are two keys to a successful safari.

1st- Only the navigator is allowed to use an electronic device, and this should be done sparingly if at all. Once you have chosen a direction, it is ok to get lost or just continue heading in that direction until time to come home. Searching for directions home is totally allowed, and even encouraged if you have a set deadline to be back to civilization.

2nd-  You must stop at every interesting opportunity, no matter how odd or simple it may seem. That strange store with the Godzilla statue out front, perfect photo opp. The restaurant with the parking lot full of pickup trucks, a must. The big field of cotton or soybeans or sunflowers you just want to grab a closer look at, yes. If there is one of those antique malls with stalls of fabulous junk, give each person a small amount of money and a time limit and see who can purchase the most interesting item.

This is a great chance to teach your children some fun ‘old school’ car games.

Fun games like license plate bingo, who has the most cows or horses on their side of the road, the ABC’s of the roadway, or other things you remember arguing with your siblings about from the backseat (with no seatbelt of course). Questions like, “What animal would you be and why?” or “If you could have any famous person to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?” can be fun ways to kick off interesting conversations. Here are some more from you could even print to take with you.

In an age where it is harder and harder to carve out time to just be together as a family, a safari is an oasis for some family bonding and laughter1st-

Your son rushes home from school, not to head out and see which other guys want to play pickup basketball, but to head to his room, don his headphones, and spend the hours between now and dinner “connecting” to his friends playing Fortnite. Gone are the days of telling our teens to “turn off the tv and do your homework.” Homework, gaming, social media, research for school, Netflix, and even phone (FaceTime) calls are all intertwined and consume almost all the waking hours our students are not in school. A new study by Common Sense Media found that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day using entertainment media. Tweens had an average of six hours a day.

Average amount of time a Fortnite player spends with the game per week:   6-10 hours

Percentage of Fortnite players that are students that have skipped class to play it:  35%

Percentage of Fortnite players that are aged 18-24:  60%

Does it surprise you to think that your son or daughter, who claims not to have time to mow the grass, eat a family dinner, or spend an hour with Grandpa on the weekend, is spending 6-10 hours a week playing a game? This is one area where we would be thrilled to have a child who was below average. But what if she was above average? More than 10 hours a week? Yikes.  

What is a parent to do? There is something you can do. It is simple, but just as anything with teens, not necessarily easy. says the antonym for “social media” is “real presence.” The first obstacle to overcome is creating opportunities for our students to have real presence with us and with others. If the allure is powerful enough, it can overcome even the enticement of online gaming.  

Five simple steps to increasing your teen’s real presence quotient:  

1-Have a discussion.  Using an app like Moment can be eye-opening for you and your teen to see how much time she is spending on different apps or activities. Having a discussion about time management and what your family guidelines are regarding screen time is a great first step.

2-Create Online Free Zones/Times. Using a parent control app like Our Pact, a Circle wi-fi router, or the built in Screen Time on the iPhone can allow you to block certain hours each day or each week that will be internet free. If your teen is older, allowing them to manage this themselves builds trust.

3-Invent Fun. Creativity really counts here. Connect with other parents and choose a weekly time for teens to gather. Willingness to drive them to a park with sports fields or courts available might be key. Offering to have them all over for pizza and a game night (board games, not online games!) would be another option. Asking your son or daughter to brainstorm activities with you might create good ideas. A scavenger hunt in the neighborhood or at a safe local gathering place is highly interactive and fun.

4-Call the Gang Together. Getting students to buy into this idea may take some work, but see if you can offer to order their favorite pizza or make their favorite meal as a reward for coordinating schedules with their friends to make this happen. For them it is as easy as initiating a group text.

5-Schedule the Next Gathering. When you have the group together, make sure they coordinate the next week’s plan. Offer a prize for the winner of the chess/checkers/ping pong/pool tournament. The winning scavenger hunt team can pick the next sport outing. Within the group does anyone have a pool table, corn hole set, swimming pool, or other incentive to hang out? Try coordinating with that family to host the group.  

If your efforts result in your teen having two to three hours a week with real presence instead of online presence, you have been successful. We are not going to eliminate the internet or the allure of gaming. But with a plan and persistence, we can encourage our teens toward face to face relationships. We all know real relationships are not only beneficial for building friendships today, but also valuable for developing skills to enhance their future.

“Mom, I’m huuuuungry,”comes the cry just as you sit down for the first time today. Isn’t it amazing how kids have a pre-installed radar to know the exact moment when a parent is about to relax? Well, fear no more. With some planning and training, your elementary age child will be able to whip up a few of their favorite foods on their own. “But why would I want to risk them burning something or making a mess in the kitchen?” you ask. Valid question. But the benefits of kids who are on the path to kitchen independence override the challenges. When children learn how to cook, they develop a skill that lends self-confidence and pride. A New York Times article suggests that children who are more involved with their food choices and preparation are more likely to try new foods. In addition, they also agree that teaching your child to cook allows a great opportunity for parent/child bonding time and for them to develop the executive functions of following step by step directions and creative problem solving.  

So where to start? For children age eight or older who are having a first foray into the kitchen, you may have a few levels to go through to build their confidence (and yours) for this new skill. A frozen toaster oven pizza might be a great first step. Take your child with you to the store and let him pick out a frozen pizza that will fit in the toaster oven (or the regular oven if you are ready).  When you get home, go over the directions, letting him read them aloud and tell you what he thinks each step means. Allow him to turn on the oven, set a timer, and wait. Then sit back as he enjoys his self-made snack.  

Step two can be as simple as mac and cheese. Following the pattern above, let your daughter choose the variety of pasta she wants from the store. This is a good chance to talk about nutrition and how your family chooses food items.  Words like “gluten-fee,” “fat-free,” “vegan,” and “organic” can provide some interesting conversations and help you share your family values regarding health and nutrition with your youngster. Wildtree, founded by a busy mom, provides affordable mealtime solutions and has a Kids Mac and Cheez that is super simple and fun and a pantry staple. Allowing a child to boil water can be scary for a parent, so make ensure you discuss whether or not an adult needs to be in the room for this. Show how to choose the right size pot, how high to fill it, and how you can’t leave the room while cooking. Now might be a good time to reach the meaning of the saying “A watched pot never boils.” Teaching how to measure and mix together the other ingredients builds confidence. Measuring and reading labels also offers opportunities to practice literacy and math skills- great bonus! Practice makes this process easy for your child. It also builds the parent’s confidence to allow less and less supervision and more and more variety in recipes as your child proves competence. 

In any cooking adventure, cleaning up is the cherry on top. Showing your daughter the steps to properly clean up after herself will set the standard for how you want the kitchen to look when she is finished. Spending time with your child teaching these skills is a great way to model your family values and have fun together. If you continue to encourage learning new recipes and new skills, your budding chef will soon be able to not only feed himself, but also the whole family.  

How do you motivate your child to be creative?

When your children are still young, what are some things you can do to encourage them to enjoy childhood and utilize their creativity instead of turning to a device to provide all their entertainment?

First, naturally limit use of electronic devices to fill times of boredom.

A quick Google search of “the value of boredom” revealed:

Why is it that we have lost the love of boredom? Where do good ideas come from? Being bored. Making sure that we don’t hand our child a device or allow them to flip on the television or computer every time they claim “I’m bored,” is a huge step toward helping them develop skills that allow them to seek alternatives to electronics.

Setting up stations or areas where your child can go when they are bored, can encourage creative play

A Dress-Up Station

Fill a bin with open-ended dress-up ideas.  Old clothes from your closet, Grandma’s or Goodwill is a great start. Look for Halloween costumes on sale in the winter. Scarves, costume jewelry, and even large fabric remnants can inspire your little one to get into character and go on adventures.  Accessories such as shoes and sunglasses also add a fun touch. Don’t forget a mirror so they can see how great they look. Dress-up can result in hours of pretending, dance events, and creative character play.

A Building Station

A tub with building supplies provides an opportunity for trial and error and figuring out the best way to create a project. Of course, Legos are great but so are other building materials. A visit to a construction site dumpster (with permission) or the local home improvement store can yield endless pieces for modular play. Various size pieces of PVC pipe and fittings, boards (remove any nails or splinters), and other building materials make for fort building paradise. Add a few sheets from a yard sale and your children may want to spend the night in their new creation.

An Arts & Crafts Station

Another storage tub could be dedicated to arts and crafts supplies. Stock up when school supplies are plentiful and add paints and paint brushes, fabric scraps and embroidery thread, glue and some construction paper, old magazines, and a couple of T-shirt’ for smocks.  Your artistic child will be content for hours creating a masterpiece for your fridge.

As with any activity for young children, you will need to set parameters on where they can spread out their creative supplies and how they will need to clean them up and return them to the storage tub. Eventually they will be able to independently choose activities, rather than always going to a device for entertainment.

By offering this unstructured time, think of the opportunities you are providing for your child.  They are practicing skills that use creativity, imagination, and innovation. So next time your youngster starts to whine, instead of handing over the iPad, reach for an activity tub to inspire them

“Blessings of a Skinned Knee” author, Wendy Mogel, gave a talk in Atlanta to a consortium of private school families. She posed the question, “How many of you were out on your bikes until dark and your parents didn’t know where you were?” Approximately two-thirds of the hands went up in the full auditorium. Then, the follow-up question, “How many of you have afforded your children the same privilege?” A meager seven hands went up, feebly, to the collective sigh of the audience. How is it that all of us rode our bikes everywhere, even until dark, but many of our children have never had the same opportunity. How in one generation did we go from bike-riding all over the neighborhood to having bikes in the garage that aren’t really enjoyed?

Research shows that bike-riding provides many benefits to the children who ride and their families. Cycling Weekly boasts that not only is it fun, but the physical activity is beneficial for cardiovascular health. The mental and emotional benefits are also great.  

The Heart Foundation states that the aerobic workout cycling provides can improve overall fitness, decrease likelihood of depression and anxiety,  and aid in better sleep. That’s something parents can get excited about!

How about it? Plan a family adventure on bikes. If you have your own bikes, it’s time to make sure they are tuned up. YouTube provides an abundance of quick videos on “Bicycle Maintenance for Beginners” if you need a refresher.

What can we do today? How about a bike ride? 

If you don’t have bikes, you have a few options – purchase bikes from a local shop, check thrift stores for used bikes, or rent bikes for the day. Check out one of these apps for finding a route to take a fun ride. Pack a backpack of snacks or a picnic and bring everyone a water bottle. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray and your helmets. A safe ride is a fun ride!  

As your children develop bike-riding skills and you teach them how to safely ride in various circumstances, you may consider letting them venture out on their own. A ride to a play date a few streets away is a good first foray -where you can send them off and know when they arrive. As they mature and show responsibility, consider loosening the “chain” and allowing them the opportunity to run an errand or grab an item you need for dinner from a nearby supermarket. As your child becomes a tween and then a teen, not only is it empowering for him to be able to go places on his own, it is also a great time-saver for his former chauffeur, namely you.  

From there to here and here to there. Funny things are everywhere.”  Dr. Seuss.

“In an age where technology is increasing faster than parents can keep up, how do we appropriately guide our teenagers toward safe and responsible use of their phones, the internet, games, movies, and media?” I asked Mark Gregston in a crowded room of interested parents. I was ready with pen in hand for his three step answer.  

Mark, who runs Heartlight, a residential home for teens from good homes who have taken a wrong turn, did not answer as I had hoped. His forty years of experience with one-on-one teenagers has taught him better. In his cowboy boots and jeans (he is from Texas, by golly), he stood on one side of the podium. “When they are thirteen, your kids are here. You give them a phone or a device and you have all the tracking and monitoring and protection you can muster.”  He walked about ten steps toward the other side of the room, “and when they are eighteen, they are here. You don’t see or check any of their history, texts, or social media. It is your job to get them to here.” Pen still in hand, I was crushed. I wanted a simple answer. Two girls entering high school and one in middle school. Kindles for school that had web browsers and the influx of the iPhone and the iPod were about to take me under. The idea of all the protection, monitoring, password changes and permissions was a full time job that I didn’t have time to do. What I really wanted was a formula to protect my kids from all things evil that I could imagine infiltrating our home via the World Wide Web.  

One thing I have always loved about Mark Gregston (aside from his handlebar mustache) is his wisdom. Having written 12 parenting books, “parented” hundreds of wayward teens, and speaking to parents daily through his radio broadcasts, he has heard it all. He knows something that those of us in the trenches with our first (or second or third) child just can’t see – that it all works out over time and that leaning into the relationship is always the best choice. But where does that leave those of us who are tired of granting more screen time and frustrated when we find Netflix suggesting R rated movies to us “because you have watched…”?

The “advice” I took away from this seemingly unsatisfying exchange was actually what I needed to hear – and maybe you do too. Be present. Pay attention to the little things. Don’t parent out of fear, but engage your child in conversation. Through coming to solutions together, rather than throwing down a list of rules, you will achieve your goal of raising an adult who can think for himself. 

I believe Mark’s physical walking from one spot to another is a tangible way to view our parenting journey. We are watching our children, our babies, grow up before our very eyes. We desperately want to cling to them, to the memories of their cutest small selves and the things they used to say. But we are torn between remembering their precious childhood and desperately desiring their responsible adulthood. We want them to move out, get their own life, manage their own finances, and know how to acquire their own car and health insurance. But in the same moment, we also know the incredible high we get as the “omnipotent Oz,” the one who can solve any problem and knows all the answers. It is here, in this tension, we stand. Between the memory of the thirteen year old new teen and the eighteen year old budding adult. So what is one thing we can do to step back from here so they can step forward and move toward there?

Parenting and business management have a fair amount in common. Both roles require oversight of behavior to get the best outcomes. However, as a parent you will want to eventually transform from the boss-like management where you are the one in charge of all of your child’s problems, to a coach that will guide your teens into having them make their own decisions.

In Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, ”The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” he teaches managers and coaches essential questions to help people work through their most difficult challenges in the corporate world. 

Who has more difficult day-to-day challenges than teenagers? 

Almost everything a teenager comes in contact with challenges in terms of relationships, stress from school, and social pressures. These problems are a brand new experience for them. Each situation presents an opportunity to contemplate a solution, try to solve an issue, and to learn from a success or failure. How are we as parents allowing our kids to face these learning moments? How can we be more like a coach, rather than a manager, to lead and support our teens through this season ripe with opportunities to grow.

The questions Bungay Stanier suggests do not only apply to coaching in the business world. It can also provide the perfect formula for transitioning our parenting from the telling and rule-based phase of the elementary years to the coaching phase of the teen years and beyond. The goal is to help teens move from always needing advice to being able to make wise decisions on their own.

How can we use these questions to lead our children to become more independent?

  1. The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind”?

Just as you have probably already learned, open ended questions give more room for interesting answers. If you want to actually know about what is going on at school, you have probably learned not to ask, “How was your day?” The one word teen answer to this question almost never leaves room for further discussion; it simply closes the door. Alternatively, “What’s on your mind?” opens the door to discovering not just the logistics of his day, but what is important to your son. This question helps you move immediately to what’s top on his list. Even better, it makes it super easy to jump from small talk right into what matters to your teen. 

  1. The AWE Question: “And what else?”

This seems so logical, yet so hard to do as a parent. If you are at all like me, you love solving problems. There are just so many as a parent. However, if we want our kids to be able to solve their own problems (isn’t this the long-range goal of parenting?), we have to step aside and let them do the work necessary to figure out what needs to be solved and how to solve it. The AWE question draws out double what you get from the Kickstart question. Sometimes teens just don’t know when they answer the first question. The second question helps to clarify things for them and for you too. Bonus: it builds the trust you need early in the conversation.

  1. The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?

This is the meat and potatoes. Be patient. Do you hear the wheels in your daughter’s head turning? This is where you coach yourself to not open your mouth and shout out an obvious answer. Right here is the hard work we have to do so our thirty year old daughter is not calling us to solve a problem at her job. The answer to this question helps drill down to what the real issue is. Wait for it.

  1. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”

Finally! This is what matters to them! If your teen trusts you, this answer is from their heart. If they don’t trust you, duct tape your mouth, open your ears, and test your patience by waiting for the answer. If they truly believe you want to help them, affirming their answer to this question is a huge deposit in your relationship bank account. The first three questions lead your teen to the place where she can answer this question well.

When asking these questions to your teen, it is key to approach it as a coach (as opposed to manager). Ask one question at a time and wait for the answer. With some kids, you may have to take a break and ask them to think about it and get back to you when they have an answer. Your bringing it back up and having a patient but relentless pursuit of getting to the last question and answer will build trust. It will also instill confidence in your teen to know that you are on his team and are truly seeking what is best for him, not just a pat answer or quick solution. 

Whether you memorize them, store them on your phone for reference, or write them on an index card, these questions will serve you well. Having a goal of transitioning from a manager to a coach will keep you focused when you would rather solve the problem for your teen than let him solve it. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s how you execute what you know.