Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Values 101

How "Glee," Down Syndrome and Bowling Changed a Tween's Life.


by Abby Margolis Newman


As a mother of three boys - two teens and a tween - I am as guilty as the next mom of being (at times) overprotective, of (sometimes) coddling, of (on occasion) hovering like the very incarnation of that awful term, Helicopter Parent. But at the same time, I care deeply about raising boys who are not only aware of the larger world around them (in which there are many, many people less comfortable and lucky than they are), but who participate in that world, who care enough to try to change things for the better - in any small way they can.


So I've been thinking a lot about values lately - more specifically, about instilling good values in my youngest son, who is 11, in spite of several obstacles: we live in an affluent town in northern California; he and his friends, in aggregate, own a whole lot of materialistic crap (expensive baseball mitts, cell phones etc); and many of our generation of parents seem to be focused ever-inwards, toward our families and our children's crazy schedules, which can produce kids who perceive themselves as the center of the universe.


This is how my youngest son, Henry, and I ended up going bowling last week with a group of people with Down Syndrome.


We are huge fans of "Glee" in our house. As any "Glee" fan knows, there are two characters on the show who have Down Syndrome: Becky, who was drafted onto the cheerleading squad by the irrepressible Sue Sylvester (played brilliantly by Jane Lynch); and Jean, Sue Sylvester's sister, who lives in a residential facility for people with Down Syndrome.


There have been a few beautifully-wrought scenes between Sue Sylvester and her sister, whom Sue clearly adores. Henry cries when he watches them (as do I). He can't explain it except to say, "I feel really sad for her." Henry is a very sensitive guy - one of his best qualities, in my opinion, which will serve him well with girlfriends later in life - and he often expresses his worry about kids he meets at school or in our community who are clearly "different," including those with Down Syndrome.


I thought it might be a good idea - or a terrible idea, maybe - for Henry to spend some time among people with Down Syndrome, to help them in some way and at the same time, help Henry understand that many of them live happy and full lives. And my experience of watching "Glee" with Henry made me see that there was something about people with Down Syndrome, particularly, that touched him deeply.


So there we were at Country Club Bowl, with a large group of residents from a live-in facility for people with Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Henry and I were supervising a group of four people sharing a bowling lane - and Henry donned the traditional ugly shoes so he could bowl too. The first thing we both noticed was that most of the residents seemed happy, constantly smiling - Henry observed that this set them apart from the non-Down-Syndrome population in a positive way.



What a great experience for your son, and for you. My children's schools have always had plenty of opportunities for community service and we do some as a family as well. I've always felt it was important for the kids to see what else is out there. To see how lucky they are for everything they have, not just materially, but having a loving family and their health as well. It's so great that Henry seems to be a natural with people and that's hopefully something he carries with him into adulthood.

And I have to say how completely jealous I am of you! I've tried to get my teenage son to watch Glee with me because sometimes it would be so great to have someone there to laugh with and ask "Can you believe Sue just said that?" He just hasn't been able to get into it and I'm left laughing alone and talking about it with friends the next day.


Thanks for a great article. What a great way to teach your son.... they always say it is better to 'show' than 'tell'. You got it spot on. Enjoy the bowling trips.
Liz MacNiven (


Wonderful! And he's even luckier because he has a mother like you.