Parenting advice from Care and Feeding.

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,

What are your thoughts on checking older kids’ phones? I have two daughters (seventeen and sixteen) and my mom friends constantly tell me that they check the phones of their daughters of the same age, but I think it’s inappropriate to be checking my daughters’ phones at that age.

—To Check or Not Check

Dear Check or Not Check,

I’m curious as to why you think it’s inappropriate to check your daughters’ phones. Are you paying their cell phone bills? Are they still minors? Do they live under your roof? If you answered yes to all of those questions, then you have every right to check their phones if you feel the need to.

I understand the flip side of the argument as well. No teenager wants to feel as if they’re being snooped on by their parents, and I don’t believe every text that comes in needs to be screened. However, if you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right with your kids, then you should use your parental authority to look into it, even if that means digging through their personal stuff. Heck, you should occasionally check their phones even if don’t think anything is wrong.

If you feel that your kids are trustworthy and are leading happy lives, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. My thoughts are that parents need to protect their kids—even the ones at the brink of adulthood, so I will proudly be that dad who unapologetically checks my kids’ phones.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My now second grader got lice from an outbreak at school last year, when she was in first grade. Getting rid of it was a nightmare. This week, she told me that a girl at her table has lice. When I asked how she knows, she said the girl itches her head like she has lice (okay, that could be a number of things) and that bugs have fallen from her hair onto her paper while she’s working (!!!). I contacted the teacher so she could get this poor girl help, and she said thank you, but she had already contacted the nurse and family and it was in their hands. She also said that school policy no longer requires children with lice to stay home. (She didn’t sound happy about it.)

Where do I go from here? Call the nurse and beg her to reconsider this policy? Send my kid to school in a shower cap? Ask for my kid’s seat to be moved? I don’t want to stigmatize the girl with the lice, but I REALLY don’t want to deal with the lice in my household again.

—Lice Lice Baby

Dear Lice Lice Baby,

I chuckled at your signoff, which doesn’t happen often—so I have to give you props for that. However, that’s where all of the laughs end, because this is serious business.

Two days before schools shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic, both of my daughters’ thick, curly hair were filled with lice. I tried everything to get it under control on my own, but nothing was working. Then I called “lice professionals” and they weren’t seeing anyone because they were deathly afraid of COVID. Finally I found a woman who was willing to make a house call to treat my girls’ hair as long as we did it in my backyard and everyone was masked. After four hours of treatment, an absurd amount of money that I paid to the specialist, and the most laundry I’ve ever completed in a 24-hour span, it was all over.

I’m sharing this story because to call that ordeal a “nightmare” would be the understatement of the century and I would do everything humanly possible to ensure I never have to relive it again. Talking to the nurse is fine, but you’re not going to change a school policy overnight. A shower cap at school is pretty extreme and would bring unwanted attention to your daughter. Now I am not a licensed professional like the lice specialist who rescued our family, but I’ll give you the information I have based on her advice, which I followed. Ensure your daughter’s hair is styled in a tight bun at school, she washes her hands often, she hops in the shower directly after school, and her clothes are thrown directly into the laundry each day, for starters. As far as controlling her school environment, you should insist at the bare minimum that your daughter’s seat is moved to another part of the room. Kids change their seats in school all of the time, so I doubt the girl with lice would know it’s because of her. (The irony isn’t lost on me that a dude who has chosen to be bald for the past twenty years is giving anyone advice about lice, but here we are.)

Last, but certainly not least—please ensure that your daughter doesn’t spread rumors about this child. I know that should go without saying and I’m sure you have that part covered, but it would be irresponsible of me not to bring it up. I’m sure she feels bad enough as it is, and it would be horrible if she was bullied as well.

This too will pass, but you’re wise to do whatever it takes to make sure it passes as painlessly as possible.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My almost seven-year-old son loves and excels in soccer. He is in the pre-academy program for advanced/elite players with our city’s Major League Soccer (MLS) league. He also participates in a soccer club and is a guest player with other teams. On these teams and with his club, my son is the best player, by far. However, in the pre-academy program, he is with other players who are at his skill level, as well as some who are stronger players than he is. My son has started to complain about and be resistant to going to the weekly trainings, even though he does well there and once practice is over, he expresses that he’s glad he went.

When asked why he doesn’t want to go, my son says that he does not like the coach. My husband or I have been to all of the trainings and we have seen the coach in action. He is excellent and demanding, but in a manner appropriate to the group’s age and ability. The coach is not necessarily the most nurturing person, but he is professional and certainly does not engage in any behavior that could be considered unkind or abusive. I think my son is less confident in this setting because he is not the best player in the group and at times he struggles with more difficult drills, which, in fairness, are challenging for all the players, and are meant to improve their skills. My son learns a lot from the program and has made a great deal of improvement. In addition, this program was quite expensive and runs through Spring 2023. How can I help my son deal with his coach’s high expectations and motivate him to go to the trainings (at least until the end of Spring 2023)? If he continues with soccer, especially at such a high level, this will definitely not be the only time he dislikes his coach. He needs (and I need) to have strategies for situations such as this one.

—Loves the Game, Not the Coach

Dear Loves The Game,

Speaking as a youth basketball coach, I see this quite often. No matter how talented your son is, we have to remember that the kid is still only 7 years old. From my experience, it’s pretty rare to find children that young who excel at handling adversity.

Based on what you’re describing, it seems as if he’s used to being the best player on the soccer field. When that isn’t the case, he’s finding someone to blame for it. This is common: Without even speaking to the head coach, I can pretty much guarantee that he has dealt with this from other players during his career.

Since you mentioned that the coach isn’t abusive, I think this will serve as a great way to teach your son to be mentally tough by not running away from his demands. You can start with the good news by telling him that he’s “one-percenter” from a talent perspective and how it’s a privilege to play with some of the best soccer players in the city. However, if he has aspirations to play soccer at a high level or for a MLS team someday, then he needs to fight through his discomfort to improve.

This part should go without saying, but it’s also really important that your son is having fun. Of course, being pushed outside of your comfort zone usually isn’t fun, but it definitely shouldn’t be the reason he quits the game he loves. Keep reminding him that this is going to make him a better player, and a stronger kid.

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,

My fifteen-year-old daughter “Jenna” has recently become addicted to screens. She’s had her own phone and iPad since she was twelve, but she has always been responsible with her screen time up until now. She spends all day on them, and I’m lucky if I can pry her off them to get her to EAT. I have also had complaints from the school saying Jenna spends all day there on her phone and is failing as a result. At home if I tell Jenna to come off of her screen, she gets grumpy and says she’s going out (which of course involves bringing her phone). When we talk about it, she says she’s “too old” for a screen time limit. Jenna’s whole life seems to revolve around her phone—online friends, Roblox, Snapchat, TikTok, etc, etc. I’ve spoken to my mom friends about this incredible rise in screen time for Jenna, and according to them it’s standard behavior for her age group and I shouldn’t be at all worried, not even about her failing school as a result. So what should I do? Is it normal teen behavior?

—Screen Time Has Gone Up, But Grades Are Down

Dear Screen Time,

Hold up, aren’t you the parent here? When you say things like, “I’m lucky if I can pry her off them to get her to eat,” it completely baffles me. Why are you treating your kid like she’s your peer? While she’s living under your roof, you are the one in charge. A while ago in this column I mentioned how one of my friends threw his kid’s phone into their backyard fire pit because of improper usage. I’m not saying you need to do that, but there’s no question about who runs the show in that household.

Also, if her grades are slipping, that’s a clear signal that something in her life needs to change immediately. Her screentime is directly impacting her academics. At this very moment you could easily take away her devices, remove said devices from your plan, and refuse to give them back until she shows some consistent improvement academically and behaviorally.

If you want to take it a step further, you could insist that she must attend counseling or therapy for an allotted period of time before you return her devices. The kid is clearly hurting and needs some help to navigate her pain, so that probably would be a good idea.

When it comes to our kids, doing the right thing isn’t always the popular thing. Please take the requisite actions to get your daughter on track. Even if she ends up “hating” you for it, she’ll thank you in the long run.


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