Question: How did you help your kids successfully make it through the pivotal early teen years (about age 12-15)?
Things that helped:
Keeping kids plenty busy.
Having great friends.
Not disapproving the harmless "peculiarities of the age group": "It seems that a new teen is so sensitive and unsure, that the last thing they need to receive from parents is teasing or disapproval....I thought of this often when my kids came up with some 'stupid' fashion. If it wasn't important or dangerous, we didn't comment on it."
Teaching family standards early, before they're teenagers.
Showing teens that you can live the gospel AND have fun and be a leader: "We felt the key to the early teen years was creating wholesome fun at our house, so their friends wanted to be here--and even more importantly, so our kids could feel that living the gospel wasn't a burden, rather a blessing, a way to be a leader for good."
Not being too quick to give advice but listening and guiding instead.
Having a strong, structured home and extended family they admired.
Having them work for what they have so it's valued.
Interviews and time spent alone talking to each child individually. One family had an understanding that if a child needed to talk about something serious, they said "I need to talk to you in the bedroom" and the mom dropped everything to talk about whatever it was.
Respecting agency: "Agency is an important principle and parents often step on their children’s agency or try to crush it with a lot of rules, grounding, etc. This creates a serious backlash in teen years when parents have less control. It is important to treat young children with the respect we would want from them and to help them make as many of their own choices as possible....We have to believe in them and their inner desire to do the right thing."
Samantha and Thomas
We felt the key to the early teen years was creating wholesome fun at our house, so their friends wanted to be here--and even more importantly, so our kids could feel that living the gospel wasn't a burden, rather a blessing, a way to be a leader for good.
We spent a lot of time thinking of interesting things to do on the weekends, like spaghetti fights or mud games outside, a Star Wars marathon, Capture the Flag, scavenger hunts or complicated puzzles. Sometimes we were really too tired to do it. We wanted a rest ourselves!
But helping teens develop habits of healthy, happy living is worth an investment. So we always took Saturday mornings off, just sleeping in and talking about things, often till noon. Then we would get up, do chores and then play.
Teenagers need to learn to play as well as to work. If they learn in their early teen years that the future is bright and that having fun doesn't have to be risky or cost a lot of money, they will be less likely to get on the wrong path or give into peer pressure later.
Mary (and Robert)
The most important thing that we did was to help our children feel good about themselves. We did the best we could to give them clothing that was acceptable in their circle. We encouraged their talents and abilities. We tried hard not to criticize unnecessarily the peculiarities of the age group. It seems that a new teen is so sensitive and unsure, that the last thing they need to receive from parents is teasing or disapproval. So we just tried to go with the flow in all possible ways.
That's not to say that standards went out the window. They had to maintain a look that was in compliance with counsel from the prophets. But little things can get blown out of proportion if we are not careful. I remember many years ago that white eyeliner thinly lined over a dark color was popular. I very carefully applied the two eyeliners and was ready just as my friends showed up to get me. My mother didn't think it looked pretty and told me (in front of my friends, unfortunately) to go wipe it off. That humiliation isn't forgotten. I thought of this often when my kids came up with some "stupid" fashion. If it wasn't important or dangerous, we didn't comment on it. One boy took to wearing a kerchief on his head. He even found an old small hoop earring (not pierced) and would occasionally wear it. We never demanded he get rid of the look and I think it surprised him. That look didn't last very long and I'm sure some of it was that he gave up trying to get a reaction from us.
Marsha (and Richard)
What I remember most about those days was the challenges our girls had with friends. Girls can be very “catty” and it seemed like there was a lot of drama. I pretty well stayed out of it, not wanting to add to the drama and far too busy with the needs of the family as a whole. I believe that parents often make the problems bigger and that an important part of parenting is helping children learn to solve problems (since that is what life is about and how they can best prepare for the rest of their life). I know that I did a better job of handling these challenges with our younger children, maybe because I had more time, but also I think I was not so quick to give advice, but listened and just guided instead.
You are probably more concerned with keeping children these ages from making serious mistakes or choosing paths that would take them away from the family teachings and beliefs. I would guess that having a strong, structured home, living the principles we taught as best we could and interacting with extended family that they admired and who shared our values probably made the most difference.
In a more practical way, they were home for dinner at 6 and did not go out after dark unless there was something specific they needed to attend. (I always cringe when I see young people out on the streets in the dark.) We expected them home after school in a timely manner. We didn’t make a lot of rules. It was just what we did in our family. They knew the value of work and worked for what they had, so were never inclined to hurt or destroy things. They were expected to be respectful of adults, teachers, other parents, neighbors, etc. They knew what they needed to do at home before going with friends and their friends were great young people who usually came from families who shared our values.
I especially remember one of our daughter’s great sadness when she returned to school to start the 8th grade and found that some of her friends had changed direction over the summer and were doing things that she knew would not be good for them. She tried to encourage them to return and often reached out to others who struggled. All of the children did. For some reason they were not enticed to follow these things themselves. I am most grateful. They had been taught in church and at home the principles of true happiness and had a pretty good understanding of our culture and beliefs.
I think trust played an important role. We trusted them and they wanted to live up to that trust. We assumed they were doing the right things with their time away. I’m sure they didn’t always make good decisions, but they had some well- developed consciences, which served them well and they made the needed changes or let us know when something needed to be corrected.
My husband had occasional interviews with each child to see how he or she was doing. I had talks at bedtime. We trusted the Spirit to let us know when we needed to dig. We also had the understanding that if a child wanted to talk to us about something serious they were to say, “I need to talk to you in the bedroom”. At that point I dropped everything and spent the needed time with that child.
Philosophically, I’d say that I believe rebellion against too much pressure is often the cause teens to “push back”. Agency is an important principle and parents often step on their children’s agency or try to crush it with a lot of rules, grounding, etc. This creates a serious backlash in teen years when parents have less control. It is important to treat young children with the respect we would want from them and to help them make as many of their own choices as possible. They should grow in their choice making until they are pretty much in charge of their own lives by late high school, and ready to be out on their own. We have to believe in them and their inner desire to do the right thing.
During the early teen years, I’d have to say our children just kept busy doing good things, which didn’t give them much time to be lured into dangerous paths. They had good role models in extended family, teachers and advisors and were blessed to live in an area where good friends were abundant. We were also blessed with a society, which supported our values…a gift parent’s today do not enjoy.
Rachel (and Bennett)
My teenagers were actually pretty good. I believe that is a time when learning how to communicate with your child is very important. Find out what they are interested in, and talk with them about it. Try to learn what concerns they have. Be a good listener.
Brianne and Spencer
Give lots of positives. Make sure they know you think highly of them and then they have something to lose if they don't meet family expectations. Help them find activites and talents to give them confidence.
Karen and Lance
How did we help our kids successfully make it through the pivotal early teen years? Well, they kind of made it through a lot on their own. We had a family car they could use when needed, if there were personal things they needed we tried to get that for them. We had no cell phones or "16" cars or anything like that, no electronic equipment either. We didn't have to fight all that "needed stuff". Our big thing was too long hair on the boys and too short skirts on the girls. If their music could be heard through their bedroom door, it was too loud. They were involved in sports and cheer so that kept them really busy, plus early morning Seminary. Their friends were good people and had the same values as our children. Ages 12 to 15 are hard years as they are trying to grow up too soon and don't really want to be told what to do. We didn't have many arguments with them as they knew when they were growing what our standards were and where we stood on certain things going on around them. Not a lot of drugs or drinking, that we could see. Didn't have to fight the 60's as our younger children were a year too young to be effected that much. Our two older children were there but chose not to participate in the wilder things. We were so lucky to have raised our children before all these distractions were invented. We have the greatest respect for the parents now who have to struggle with so many things in their children's lives. Just make sure to teach them early so they will listen later on when they will be torn by their peers and the distractions that are all around. Raising children in these years are very critical to the rest of their lives. Hope this helps a little.
Abigail (and Martin)
We didn’t have too many troubles during the pivotal teenage years. I think it was luck. The kids were busy with sports and school and didn’t have lots of time to just hang out. We were also lucky that our kids friends were great also, so the influence was for the good.
Next week's question: When a young child (about age 2-6) was crying loudly in the same room as you (for a long time while everyone was trying to eat dinner, etc. or in a way that appeared not to be genuine), what did you do?