The dreaded teen years…… for some of us they have arrived, for some of us they will be here before you know it. For us, we have about 6 years to prepare. Is it by default that this formative age is going to be a massive struggle and battle of wills? Is this a projection of our own teen years? Will it be a self -fulfilling prophecy?
If you expect your children to be a handful, chances are they will be. The question for many is how to mitigate the possible issues. Mitigation starts early. As early as possible, perhaps even at birth.
From what I have come to believe, the two most important things that will help parents and children navigate through their lives peacefully and with respect are modeling, and a loving connection with your kids.
I think modeling is a pretty easy concept. Kids can spot a hypocrite a mile away. They are designed to do that. So if you want your kids to eat healthy, then eat healthy. If you want your kids to be active, be active. If you want your kids to love reading, read to them and read in front of them. If you want your kids to have less screen time, then don’t watch TV in front of them. It’s a pretty simple formula, really. It may not happen the next day, but over time, they will learn, either good habits or bad. Your kids are watching you and learning from you, even when it doesn’t seem like they are paying attention. I often hear the phrase that “ kids are pretty smart”. Yes they are, and if you think they are not picking up on the fact that you are telling them to do one thing and then doing the exact opposite, then you are setting yourself up for potential battles. And we all know “actions speak louder …….”
Connecting, on the other hand, is a much harder concept to grasp. I will go out on a limb here and make the assumption that we all love our kids. We all want what we think is best for them. But by loving them, does that automatically create a connection? We have to foster a kind, gentle and open relationship with our kids, so that when they have a problem, they will come and talk with us. That’s why when a 4 year old has a screaming meltdown over a broken toy, we should try to empathize with them. For them it’s a big deal. Huge even. When they are teens and a really big deal does happen, they will have the confidence to come to us without being judged. Connecting and listening with empathy should start as young as possible.
I have heard many times that “We can’t be their friends…..” and by that statement I feel that as adults, we imply the opposite. We need to be the “ authority figure”. If we don’t tell them everything they need to know, they will NEVER be able to figure it out on their own. (That is not taking the “kids are pretty smart” philosophy} And I will agree that as parents and adults we need to set limits on our kids, not just “be their friends”. I am not advocating permissiveness. I am advocating listening to children and working on things together. Collaboration, discussion, negotiation, kindness and respect are the key to solving any problems that you may have. After all, shouldn’t this be what we all strive to do in the “real world”.
Our kids don’t have to like our decisions, but they have to have their opportunity to voice what they want and to do so in a safe environment. If this happens from a young age, then some of the issues of the teen years might be easier to handle. Wouldn’t you rather your kids come to you and have a discussion about drugs and alcohol when they encounter them? That is my goal. It may not happen, but I am choosing the methods that I think will have the best chance to get me to that goal. Let me put it this way. In an unscientific assignment of numbers, let’s say that by lecturing, grounding, punishing and yelling at kids, it will produce a teen that has a 60% chance of staying away from drugs, doing well in school, living a productive and happy life, and have a close relationship with their parents and siblings. By being respectful, empathetic, gentle and constructive, maybe we increase our odds of happy productive adults to 75%. I realize these numbers are completely arbitrary, but which would you choose? Most sane people would choose the latter. I feel that there is a much better chance of them “turning out well” by being kind and respectful. I don’t have numbers, but it simply makes sense to me. Nothing is foolproof, and there are many influences in a children’s life. Socio economics, stability, peer groups, etc. have influence on your children. My kids could end up in jail, for all I know. The future is a huge mystery to us all.
We can tell them, teach them, punish them and lecture them on the dangers of life, but will that stop them from experimentation? For some kids it might. For others who will push limits anyway and have no safety net because they may be afraid of what their parents will think or what their parents will do to them if they “get caught”, life can be a scary proposition.
Next – some great resources.