Friends for My Violent Five Year Old

I hate to say it, but my youngest son, Leopold, has become a savage monster.

What happened to my baby who loved dinosaurs and Legos, and puzzles and wooden toys and even dressing up dolls on occasion?  Slowly but steadily, he’s moved from an innocent obsession with bombs and boogers to full throttle violence with a capital V.

Leopold used to sit happily while his nails were painted a delicious rainbow of sparkles by four giggling older sisters. But today, he wants no part of it, unless maybe the color is blood red. Everything lately has become guts and gore. If he does play with Legos, it’s to fashion a knife that he uses while pretending to be a hired hitman. He then artfully executes me while I’m working unsuspectingly at my laptop. Or, he snaps those colorful blocks together to make some kind of dismemberment machine for the tiny lego men, which leaves their little lego heads strewn all over the house.

I don’t remember the older boys being this brutal.

I’m not usually one to consult child development books or parenting how-to’s – I’m the So-Called Mom, remember? –  but this raised enough of a concern that I fled to my library for some of my own extra-curricular. I chose the obvious: It’s a Boy: Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18. At first glance, this book describes how parents often overreact to boy aggression at ages five to seven, but apparently this is how they develop “leadership skills” and become “socially resilient.” (I have put these in quotes because apparently these are our culture’s measure of “success”.)  In essence, the book instructed me to trust Leopold’s violent play, and that he will eventually self regulate through friends.

Now that’s what the usual mom might do.  But I’m not so usual.  I don’t just accept the so-called truth.  I think there’s other culprits at play here beyond the usual “age appropriate behavior.”

I think it’s screens.

I think screens have changed the rules in ways we are only recently starting to examine. As screens have taken precedence over almost every single activity and norm (research, family photography and filming, social interactions, of course all kinds of games), it seems naive to accept childhood violence as being strictly developmentally appropriate.

For instance, Leopold has learned about torture devices from his older brothers’ video games and watching YouTube at unmonitored moments—and not from watching Fox News or Bob the Builder. He not only has learned all about weapons and killing, but he has a clear understanding that they are for heroes and that the bad guys need to die.  And is Leopold just embellishing with his own active imagination?  I think it’s more insidious.

I think Leopold takes it to uncomfortable heights – or at least a level that I am uncomfortable with.  He frequently jumps the shark when he Lego-bombs his sisters or attacks me with hand stripped twig-shanks. This isn’t in alignment with the material in that book which suggests that Leopold’s friends will guide him with age-appropriate behavior. That together, they make the rules and hold each other to them. So I’m just now learning (on kid 7) about the importance of friends–that no one can get by on family alone, no matter how many siblings you have to play with.

I think this is the cultural impact of the internet and screens.

To add to this, Leopold is an unbelievably muscular kid, who at five, doesn’t yet know his own strength. What he has already realized is he can use it to intimidate and destroy things. He breaks apart tree branches so they become varying weapons of mass destruction. He bears his chest with zero embarrassment and hulks his way around the house, slamming doors, throwing toys, unwary of anything in his path.

So yeah, I”m pulling the plug on him, just as I did with Milla. And it’s a safe bet that he’s going to like it even less. But I’m observing his innocence and inventiveness being ruined by this disturbing new kind of play, and at five, I can still influence most of what he does.  I’m also ramping up in other ways to engage him, like enrolling him in some activities so he can socially engage with kids his own age.  He will start a gymnastics course to help him redirect some of this boundless energy.  Hopefully he’ll start focussing on walking on the balance beam rather than the pirate’s plank.

Desperately seeking friends,

So called mom

Get a Job part 2: Pascal 1, Teenagers, 0

When I originally wrote about jobs, I was referring to four teenagers, who to date, have done nothing about getting jobs. It looks like drive in the family comes in the form of a nine year old.

Recently and for no apparent reason, Pascal took up the accordion – which in music terms is like deciding to study Swahili.   Not exactly a popular choice or with any apparent value.  But she wants one of her own (hers is borrowed)….Along with a new skateboard and other skateboarding gear. When I told her the standard parent answer:  We aren’t made of money, she came back with a surprising response:

Let me play on the street for money.  Like a street musician.  I’ll earn it.

Rather than describe what happened, let me show you.

The girl raked in almost $50 in less than an hour. Yesterday, we sat at a new spot, just out of the rain for only 20 minutes and she earned $25. She’s hooked (I’m hooked!), so we are going back today.  This is what I call resourceful.

And she’s not just self-serving:  she’s been playing for the retirement home down the street, bringing joy to a grateful audience.

I know I’ve got to get on the older kids, but here’s hoping a nine year old can motivate the others, as to date, there has been zero follow through. That’s my goal for this week:  bust some teenage ass.

Calling the shots,

So called mom

Blended Family Goodbyes Are Never Easy

Every week, part of my family breaks away.

Most of the kids in our family go back to their other parents’ house for a few days. Even though we’ve been doing this for 11 years now, it hasn’t gotten any easier. The ones that are left behind struggle a great deal with it, including me.

In this Mini-VLOG, I discuss the difficulty with having kids leave, while Leopold showcases his favorite pieces from my wardrobe (and helps me feel better).

It’s quiet around here,

So Called Mom



Meeting the Dark Side of the Internet

Kids iPhones and ipadsSo Called Mom

Well, it happened.

Milla lost her privileges to all of her screens and all of her accounts. The hardest part was, that none of it was her fault—even though she still thinks it is.
About a week ago, I posted my thoughts about screens and kids. Well, today I did a 180 on that. Why? Because of a sudden need for maximum security.
As far as I can see,  I’ve identified two kinds of damage that surround screen use. The first is the common one: the addiction that comes with too much use, whether it’s social media or video games. Theoretically there’s a straight-forward solution: go outside and play, read a book or use your hands and create something.
The second is more unexpected and much more concerning. It’s made me look to the connective power of the internet as something that is more harmful than helpful. It’s made me question my laissez-faire attitude.

It’s even made me question the way I’ve made some mom choices.

Cutting to the chase: I think my 14-year-old was lured into a teen self-harm group – which is bad enough, but to make matters worse, the group may be linked to some kind of sex trafficking gang or occult. Maybe that sounds like a stretch, but at this point, I don’t care what it is—I just want my daughter as far away from it as possible.

So don’t misunderstand:  it’s  not like we don’t comprehend internet safety, we just never thought the bad stuff would happen to our own kid. But the depth of insanity that I’m going to reveal is enough to make you realize just how much you don’t know. And I hope it gives you goosebumps.  It’s certainly freaked the hell out of me.

So here’s the story: 

Last week, Milla’s internet girlfriend broke up with her. She was devastated, and I helped pick up the pieces. This week, one of the friends in the same group of online friends died. I had no idea this child had cancer, no idea she became a bestie, no idea there was even a circle of “friends” that Milla now referred to as her “family”and no idea just how much that family knew about Milla.
The truth is, I had noticed Milla acting depressed lately and becoming darker and more isolated. I noticed her real friends had completely dwindled—but I thought it was because she favored the online version. For some reason, I didn’t think to question that. I wanted to be open to the fact that we live in a new world, where kids can connect with different people in different cultures. That she was ahead of the curve on this, like always and I wanted to respect her privacy. I tried to put my foot down when I could, but ever so lightly because she was, after all, a 14-year-old girl who was navigating all sorts of stuff—sexuality, friends, trading middle school for high school…all of it. It’s only a stage, I told myself. At least you’re a part of it.

But I don’t know why I thought I was a part of it when I obviously wasn’t.

I was an outsider to a place she was increasingly visiting for answers. I had no idea that she was being swept away. It wasn’t until she was devastated by back to back events –  heartbreak from one “Friend” and the death of another – that I was suddenly clued into something more twisted and dark. 

It was Pippin who stepped in with some critical questions:  

Ok….I’m slow to the uptake. But here was my wake up call.

We looked through her devices and uncovered multiple accounts from a tight group of people who shared images of slashed wrists and made art about death and loneliness. One of them was our beloved Milla—you could literally scroll and see the darkness taking over her originally cheery and artsy account. In scanning through everything, and comparing images and postings, I have reason to believe that there were only a few people, masquerading as a lot more and reeling in vulnerable kids like Milla.  I also suspect that some may have been “killed off” to lure kids in even deeper with an end goal I can only shudder to imagine.  

Admittedly, my initial reaction was to feel paralyzed and shocked.

I tried to Google, searching for some answers.  This was so far outside my realm of experience or that of anyone I knew that I didn’t know where to begin. There was very little at this level—nothing that would help me come to terms with what happened. Sure there was plenty of info about cyber-bullying, but it all seemed oversimplified and centered on hurt feelings—nothing this complex. Then my mind started to spin out, thinking that Milla was very well catfished by that little girl who broke her heart. What if she was a little girl caught up in it too, brainwashed and pressured to recruit other kids?
I understand I’m sounding completely crazy, but with so little information I’m left only with speculation and my own detective work. But wouldn’t you agree that I have enough info though, to make me scour all phones and profiles, delete photos, accounts, apps and block people and phone numbers that aren’t family or known friends? And even so, the devices I’m most concerned about—Milla’s—are sitting, powered off. Those deserve a good cooling off in solitude.

How do any of us really know what they are doing on their social media?

We are caught between letting them find their own way around as we learn to let go, and letting them loose in uncharted and unregulated territories.  It’s the wild, wild west out there, and I had been letting Milla—and almost all of my kids really, explore it solo. I would love to give all of the above the benefit of the doubt, but at the risk of losing my child? No way in hell do I take that risk.
I know this feels like punishment to her. I have reinforced otherwise and tried to reduce all of this to the simple example stated above: It’s time to just go outside and play, to reestablish yourself with your friends, and yes, even go talk to someone professional about what happened—to return to ground zero and rebuild.
If anyone has had a similar experience or any kind of advice, please, please share in the comments below–not only would I appreciate hearing from you, but I really kind of need it right now.
Your personal firewall,
So Called Mom

Using Dinner to Stay in Your Kids Lives VLOG

Hi there!

Here’s a sweet mini-VLOG for today on what our busy blended family does to stay connected with one another.

If you have other tips and tricks to add, please share in the comments below, I’m always open to trying out your ideas.

Thanks and don’t forget to subscribe!

So Called Mom