Lulus are beside the point. Teen conduct is what matters

Lulus are no-noes at my son’s school, unless they are paired with tops of an acceptable length. There has been a ruckus about this rule in recent days, but I do think school dress codes are important. Ideally, they reinforce expectations set at home.

A woman wearing a tube top. The woman was with...

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“No. You can’t wear a tube top to school. Back to your room and come out wearing something legal.”

“No. You can’t buy a T-shirt with a gun on the front or wear your pants sliding off your butt. That’s not acceptable.”

As veterans know, raising teenagers is a trip to a different parenthood entirely.

This is the ‘hood. Volatile territory. Battles happen. There are good guys and bad guys. As a parent, you have to be both.

So it’s okay by me for the board of education to take the bad-guy rap for putting a kibosh on skin-tight apparel.

Here’s St. Joe’s dress code:

All students are asked to wear clothes that are clean and in good taste. Low cut tops, tops with bikini straps, spaghetti straps, crop tops, tube tops, muscle shirts, t-shirts with unacceptable language/pictures are not permitted. Sleeveless blouses/shirts are allowed provided they are not low-cut in the front, back or side. Bare shoulders are unacceptable. Clothing that permits exposure at the midriff is not acceptable. Leggings that are not covered by shorts or a skirt of acceptable length are not permitted.  Shorts/skirts are allowed provided they are at least mid-thigh length. Ripped clothing is not allowed.  Any clothing that reveals undergarments is not acceptable.  Spiked wristbands and collars are not permitted. In addition staff, students and parents will continue to be consulted on other aspects of the code as it becomes necessary. 

Personally, I have no objection.  However, if you’ve seen the Paulina Gretzky pics circulating online this week and you have a daughter, you may be thinking there are far worse things than lululemon yoga pants.

Hopefully our kids’ errors in judgment won’t be posted on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

While school rules for conduct may help both parents and kids survive adolescence, more importantly they can help young people learn social skills they need for life.

That doesn’t mean kids won’t bend, stretch, break and flout those rules.

They will.

That’s nothing new. How about Adam, Eve and the apple? Odds are, their fig leaves were either high-cut, low-cut or a tad too snug.

If you’re a Darwin fan, it’s easy to imagine the cave dweller days. Wilma was probably dragging Pebbles by the hair to her room because her pelt was hiked up practically to her hips.

Remember your own high school years? There’s a chance you waited until you were on the bus or around the corner to slap on makeup or undo the top buttons of your shirt. Even back in the ancient days of the last century, it was standard for teens of both sexes to go into the school washroom and come out in more revealing attire.

It’s nature’s timeless mating call – with hair gel.

As youngsters reach towards independence, they push away from their parents, challenge authority, test limits. They also feel the pull of peer pressure.  Those young things wandering school halls in sometimes questionable outfits?  They’re sending out social signals:

“I’m cool.”

“I’m hot.”

“I am me.”

When they cross a line of decency, there should be consequences.

I wonder, though, if the rules themselves are all looks and no action.

Do kids and the adults understand what decency means?

Do they understand a code of conduct is more important than a code of dress?

At school and at home, boys have to learn and know and believe No means No – No Matter What.

Tight pants and low-cut tops do not equal “You’re asking for it.”

Females have a right to be safe, regardless of what they choose to wear or not wear. Whether they upload lingerie pics or show up in class with bare shoulders, there’s no excuse for sexual aggression.

The Ottawa Citizen reports a 17-year-old was allegedly sexually assaulted at a recent party. Hosted with the consent of parents, it was a hockey party. It was also publicized on Facebook and one player wrote there would be “free booze for ladies”.

One of those young ladies left the house crying. She went to the hospital for an examination. The host, 20, said he “believed the sex was consensual.” Since when does consensual sex result in tears and a trip to the hospital?

To me, that response indicates important life lessons are being missed. Respectful attitudes need to be modeled, discussed and reinforced both at home and at school.

Mr. and Ms. Teacher:  What’s the real message behind those teen codes?

Tight pants may be in questionable taste, but it’s conduct that really matters.

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What if My Kids Do What I Did?

I used to think I could fly. I cartwheeled, plunged, jumped off and over, leaped and bounded without pausing much to look. The kid dancing a jig on top of a barrel rolling downhill? Here. Propelled by what I don’t know. Body chemistry? Youthful bravado? In the emergency ward at the local hospital, they knew me on a first-name basis. Maybe that’s why my mother was always saying prayers.

One winter in Combermere the hill was not quite covered in snow. Scratchy plants and rocks littered its surface. There was a fence not quite flattened, beyond which the water was not quite frozen solid. We called it suicide sliding and raced down that hill for hours, gleefully aiming to clear the fence. At night we skied uphill in the bush.

I can’t remember why. At designated ski hills, we headed for the bumps, jumps and trees, for those twisting, windy trails that dipped and dropped and sent us airborne or flailing. In summer at dawn, as a layer of mist hovered thick as a blanket of clouds above grass, we hurtled on horses, up, up stretching over logs, at full arching gallop. Always full throttle, leaping, straining for sky and willing to test flesh, bone and luck.

Riding bareback in the woods, hell-bent for somewhere, I tumbled from the horse and hit a boulder one grey afternoon in early spring. Sky didn’t crack or the big hand come down to swallow me, but I waited for a breath-held second, looking up. Instead, nurses sang I am Stuck on Band-Aids in the operating room at CHEO. After, undaunted, arm in a sling, I rode my bike fast as I could along the highway to the graveyard for a séance.

So you can understand why I worry. When my four-year-old tried flying from the monkey bars at the park, I had a turn as emergency ward mother. Teeth clenched and arms steady, holding my beloved, sobbing child, I made silent deals with fate: Please keep them safe. I’ll do anything to keep them safe.

When, at age 12 or so, he flew into concrete attempting a trick at a skateboard park, there we were again. Now we have jumped full-swing into the teen years so I am looking (sternly, finger pointed) inside and back. What if my kids are like me? Risk taking is associated with adolescence. What if they act the way I did?

Way back then, my propensity to jump first and look later didn’t manifest itself in risk-taking behavior with lasting consequences. Mostly it amounted to sprains, a few stitches, bruises, a shoulder reattached and a week in the hospital with a roommate whose mother brought us curried rice for lunch. Protective parents, a small-town upbringing in the sticks and opportunities to experience life in positive, active ways helped keep me out of trouble.

I wonder about kids without those safety nets. I wonder about risk tolerance, about the nature of impulsivity and the split-instant compulsion to fly without wings. Really all I want to do is swaddle my kids in bubble wrap, hide them under the towels and tuck them in a locked cupboard until they’re 27. So life won’t hurt them. So nothing bad will happen.

One quick decision can cause irreparable harm. I know that. I know now what my mother knew then: Parenting teens can be hazardous to your heart. She talked a lot to my brother and me about common sense and self-control. I don’t know that I could hear her.

How, I wonder, can I talk that walk with my own kids when, as a teen, I held on barely by the fingernails…to a narrow, crumbling ledge on a mountainside as rock started to give way. With no water, no hiking boots, no rope, I was alone on a rock face that summer day in Banff, having gone the wrong way, gotten separated from my friends and climbed myself into a vast, jagged expanse of cliffs. Ahead I went anyway, up, right to the top. There were clouds and snow and I held on, dizzy, fearing then the wind would send me over an edge into oblivion. Truth is, I was also enthralled.

That’s the scary part.

It took me years, until my mid-20s, to fully comprehend we are earthbound. Bodies break. Life and limbs must be revered. On my 25th birthday I decided I didn’t want to jump out of an airplane after all. Skydiving wasn’t worth the risk. Marriage, motherhood and time helped me settle and grow steady. (It could be argued I’ve solidified, through the ages, into plutonic rock.)

Certainly, in the process, I’ve worked hard to create structure and supports and stability for my kids. Nowadays, I don’t like much risk. I say no. Don’t. There are rules and expectations in this household. Mindful of my past, I aim to channel the kids’ energy – and mine – into healthy, productive pursuits. I talk to my teens, for what it’s worth, and know I am modeling behavior through my actions and choices. That’s terrifying.

But mostly I succeed. Sure I did a face plant while chaperoning the school ski trip and my foot needs to ease up a tad on the gas pedal and and…I think, I pray, I hope, I believe I’ve observed neither of my children has that same drive to jump off a cliff.

It’s there though. I see it in other kids. And I recognize the risk inherent in an instant. What worries me most is the snap-your-fingers time it takes to stay or go, to get in a car or change a teen mind, to say no or yes or maybe later, to tell or not tell or try something at someone else’s urging. Consequences can be harsh or deadly. In their age range, the real-life evidence is all too abundant.

I do know my kids are themselves, not me. They are grounded and goal oriented. Still, I make silent deals in my head and hesitate to risk a leap of blind faith that everything’s going to be fine, thanks.  Instead I wish for bubble wrap.

Do you worry your kids might do what you did?

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One in a Hundred


Image by Elizabeth Albert via Flickr

On the way to work this morning, did you notice the children getting on the bus? Did you pass the kids walking up the street with their backpacks? Maybe you dropped your youngsters off at the schoolyard and saw the familiar rush of students – all those bright, shining faces. Hundreds upon hundreds of them head into each school to learn the stuff they need to know for the future.

Take a look. Some of them will be diagnosed with schizophrenia. They may not know what hit them. The math is staggering: One in 100 people will develop schizophrenia. About 300,000 people in Canada, including some 120,000 people in Ontario, have or will have the serious brain disease.

This lesson is one to remember: Schizophrenia usually strikes when people are young – between the ages of 16 and 30. Most often, there’s a completely normal childhood before the onset of illness. The boy in your daughter’s class, the one with curly hair who wants to be an astronaut – will it be him? The girl with the huge grin who wants to be a veterinarian – will it be her?


  • Schizophrenia does not discriminate based on sex, social class, race or culture.
  • It is common and impacts individuals and families all over the world.
  • Schizophrenia affects a person’s perceptions, emotions, thinking and behaviour.  In its acute stages, it can make it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not.
  • Exact causes of the disease are not yet known, although there is strong evidence to suggest biological factors are involved.
  • It’s treatable. People with schizophrenia can lead productive lives.
  • People with schizophrenia can work.
  • People with schizophrenia who are receiving proper medical treatment are no more likely to be violent than anybody else.
  • Misconceptions about schizophrenia unfairly stigmatize people who are struggling to live well. That hurts! Due to stigma, young people and their parents may be less likely to speak up about symptoms and get help.

Help is critical – ASAP. Early diagnosis, intervention and treatment optimize chances for recovery.

We need to talk openly about schizophrenia and other mental health issues young people face. They’re real. They’re serious. The sooner people get the mental health care and support they need, the better.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario has a Peace of Minds campaign to ensure nobody has to face this disease alone. Your donation can help make a difference.

Check for other info. You can also call 1 800 449-6367.

Mental Health Service Information Ontario (MHSIO) provides 24/7 access to information about mental health services and supports across the province.

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To Kill or Not to Kill

“I’m going to kill him.”

I usually say it at least three times before breakfast.

“I’m gonna kill him, I’m gonna kill him, I’m gonna kill him,” I mumble to the air.

“I could kill him,” I tell the dog.

There’s the short, staccato delivery (with teeth clenched): “I’m Going to KILL him.”

The blasé death threat: “Jesus Mary Mother of God. Thaaat’s it for you buddy. Donezo.”

The to-the-point version: “Do that again – you’re dead.”

The question: “Do you like breathing?”

I’m shaking my head right now, talking to my unfaithful, malfunctioning, treacherous computer: “Game’s up, sucker. You’re life is O-Ver.”

When the teen…(who said the twos were terrible?) hmphed and harrumphed and looked at me like I was a maggot with lice because I had the audacity to microwave him scrambled eggs this morning? When he gave me that evil shrug of teen disdain – after I asked if he wanted eggs and he said yes? When there were four minutes left until he had to leave for school and in my colossal parental stupidity I did it wrong again?

As soon as the door closed behind him of course I said the obvious: “Death to the child.”

Elsewhere in Ottawa, another 15-year-old – this one accused of running a pirate radio station – has admitted he threatened to kill a local radio DJ. The boy, who was 14 at the time, has been charged with a slew of things. He says he wasn’t serious about the death threat.

Now, now. Calm down, people. Truth is complicated. Judgers and justice seekers have to figure out facts, details, circumstances, gravity and risk. However, this I do know: Research suggests the teen brain is a construction site and parents realize volatility and emotional lability are side effects of the neural work in progress.

Is it possible a 14-year-old threatened death with no intent to kill? Absolutely. If they all died in the 50-odd years I’ve been killing people with words, it would be a lonely planet indeed.

Heck, just this week I had my husband a breath away from his expiration date. He was wheezing, sneezing, wallowing and clearly on the way out. He also had the (fatal?) nerve to point a finger at us for bringing the deathly cold back from NYC.

“Why don’t we just take you out and shoot you?” I suggested at the dinner table.

“Let’s put him out of his misery, guys,” I mentioned another time. “If you don’t make it, can I have your ankle boots?” I asked him. “They’re only a couple of sizes too big.”

Last night he was on his death bed, nearly dearly departed. I, naturally, had memorized the life insurance policy and called in a renovation company for quotes to raise the roof and build me a closet with skylights.

It was bedtime. Lights out – but his lights were not yet out. Amidst the paroxysm of sneezing, I considered the old smother-him-with-a-pillow routine.

Ah. So diabolical, the Brain might even hire me to replace Pinky.

Death by feathers

But I couldn’t do it… this time. Instead, I suggested to the other half that he might want to snore in the guest room for the night, since he was obviously allergic to the – lovely, fluffy, somehow feathery – spring bedding.

Egad! “What are we going to do tomorrow night, Brain?”…