An innocent trip to the supermarket with my 4-year-old daughter showed me how strange this world has become.

It started with me playing the all-too-familiar role of "Shopping Cart Mutombo" (essentially swatting away all of the junk food she attempted to put inside the cart). Nothing unusual there.


Not in Dikembe Mutombo's house, kid. GIF from Geico.

Later on, we encountered a woman who stopped us to say how cute my daughter's "Frozen" T-shirt was. As we were about to part ways, I whispered to my kiddo to wish the lady happy holidays. Again, nothing odd there, right?

Well, not so much.

The woman smiled at my daughter and said,"Honey, your daddy should teach you to wish people a 'merry Christmas,' not happy holidays, OK?"

My little one quickly responded with a sheepish, "OK," and that was the end of our brief encounter.

What just happened? One second she's complimenting my kid's outfit, and before I knew it, she was telling me how to raise her. Needless to say, I was less than pleased.

Oh, no she didn't. GIF from "Friday."

I'm a Christian who celebrates Christmas, but I'm not buying this "War on Christmas" nonsense because it's a war that doesn't exist. I also fully reject the notion that my daughter should say "merry Christmas" to everyone she comes across.

When we got home, I gave my daughter three reasons why that lady was wrong in terms that even a 4-year-old can understand.

1. It's just silly.

I could start and end my rant with that, but since we're on the topic of silliness, let's push forward with a silly analogy that I shared with my daughter.

Let's say there is a fantastic buffet that offered the best mozzarella sticks in town. When it comes to dipping sauces, she's on Team Marinara all the way and — coincidentally — that was the only sauce this establishment had available.

Mmm ...mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce. A great combo. Photo via iStock.

Customers with diverse tastes start to visit the buffet, so the owners decided to do something about it. Instead of providing a "marinara" section, there is now a "sauce" section of the buffet where the marinara is in a container next to a container of ranch dressing and a container of some other secret dip that nobody is quite sure of.

So, here's the question I posed to my kid: "Would it upset you if all of the sauces were grouped together? Remember, you can still have your marinara sauce, but it will be placed with the other sauces."

Her response was a cautious, "No," assuming this was part of a trick question. I assured her it wasn't.

I know what she wouldn't do. She wouldn't throw a tantrum about how there's a "war on marinara sauce" and that we're becoming "too politically correct" by including other sauces that don't appeal to her.

Saying "happy holidays" isn't dissing Christmas any more than offering a bunch of sauce choices disses marinara.

2. The Christian population in America is dwindling, and we need to be inclusive of other religions.

Again, I'm a Christian, but we need to stop acting as if Christian celebrations and beliefs are all that should matter in America.

A whopping 70% of Americans claim Christianity as their faith, but that percentage dropped by approximately eight percentage points since 2007 according to the Pew Research Center.

Why does that matter? Because the number of non-Christians in America is growing. That means more Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and (gasp) Muslims are walking among us. While certain bombastic presidential candidates may not like some of that change, I personally think it's wonderful.


Another factor is millennials are less likely to be religious than any other group, although many of them identify as spiritual.

As this trend continues, fewer people are identifying with Christianity and more people are choosing other religions — and in some cases, no religion at all. Does it really make sense to wish everyone a "merry Christmas" if that's the case?

That's when I asked my daughter a second question. "If you were at a playground and only a select group of kids could play with the toys while the others were left out, do you think that would be fair?"

Again, my query was met with a simple "no," but I decided to follow up by asking why she felt that way. "Because everyone should have a toy to play with."

Right.

So if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings' Day, you have a right to have it recognized, even if it isn't by name. Happy holidays is a good way to do it.

3. Accept well wishes graciously.

I finally asked my daughter, "What do you say when people say nice things to you?"

You guessed it.

GIF from "The Office."

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There's nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they're far from insults.

Can we please stop acting like it's some sort of attack on humanity? Because it's really not.

Final note to the lady at the supermarket: I'm going to teach my daughter to be inclusive and kind.

I understand where you're coming from. You really like marinara sauce and it's pretty much all you've eaten in your lifetime. Sometimes change can be hard. I get that (took me two years to wean myself off ranch).

But we shouldn't cling to our old habits just because we don't feel like changing. We need to make the most out of our time here and connect with the people we meet. That way, the mozzarella sticks will taste better for everyone.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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