It seemed like such a good talk! Our kid comes to us to talk through a problem. Finally…we have a chance to connect and impart our wisdom and practical knowledge. And they ignore every bit of what we said. Sigh. Could it be that what we thought they were looking for…a solution…isn’t what they really wanted?
An insightful article in the New York Times points out that teens sometimes use their parents as more of a sounding board: “More often than not, offering our teenagers an ear, empathy and encouragement gives them what they came for.” Psychologist and author Lisa Damour helps us understand how to listen, and not offer help or a solution unless it’s really wanted, making this recommendation: “Start by asking if your teenager wants help solving the problem. If you get a yes, divide the issue into categories: what can be changed and what cannot. For the first type, focus on the needs your teenager identifies and work together to brainstorm solutions. For the second type, help them come to terms with the things they cannot control.” For those of us who like a “hands on” demo, the article includes an example of what this would look like.
I recently came across the OK, Inc. YouTube channel, with dozens of videos on topics teens say they want addressed…things such as date rape, bullying, sexting, abusive relationships, substance abuse, etc. These videos use high school students as actors and portray realistic scenarios. I watched several that have been viewed by millions, and can recommend them as excellent tools for parents and teachers.
These short story videos help teens recognize risky situations, make good choices, deal with consequences, and see a way forward even after making a poor choice. Every video has an example of friends who help their friends along the way. Parents, don’t we want to see our child learn now how to have good relationships, choose well when faced with negative pressures, and to BE a good, supportive friend to others who are caught in bad decisions, or bad relationships? Sometimes, all the good advice we know we could give is better received coming from peers. These videos provide a creative way to open conversations with our children about the pressures and problems they face in everyday life, without coming across as too “preachy.” I urge you to watch and discuss as many of these videos with your teens as possible.
We can see in retrospect that the decisions we made as teens and twenty-somethings set the course for the rest of our lives, but if the teens under your care are like many young people, they are less focused on direction in life than what’s for dinner, who asked who to homecoming, and making the next kill in Fortnight before getting down to homework.
Do you know what your child would say if asked about goals in life? If you find yourself using the line: “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into a good college” it’s time to rethink your strategy. Do we really thing kids can’t wait to finish high school, just so they can go to college for 4 or more years? No…college is a means to the other goals they have: A good job, a house, travel…and yes, marriage and family. So HOW can we help them put a name to their goals, and use those goals to drive the decisions they make today?
The first step, is to help your child identify the things that are important to them…put a name to it! Take one of the spokes on this life “wheel” (LINK) and talk about it at the dinner table some night…and keep going until you’ve talked about them all. Then, once important goals are identified and written down, talk through the HOW of achieving those goals. Next, identify the roadblocks they might encounter, or create by their lack of planning or poor decisions.
Teen Decision and other organizations are part of the effort to get teens to consider how relationship choices now can affect teens today AND tomorrow. Over 15,000 Illinois students this year have benefited from a state-funded workbook based program (A&M Partnership) teaching abstinence from a medically accurate, well-reasoned perspective. The very first chapter in each workbook talks about goal-setting. The entire first chapter of Navigator (LINK) has great resources if you want to take a page or two to help you talk through goals in life with your child. In the next blog posts, I’ll be taking some other tips and ideas from these workbooks to help you help your teen on the path to maturity.
Words make their way into common use because teens come up with new ways to describe their reality. “Phubbing” is one such word. It means phone snubbing…as in when you are with someone and instead of giving you their attention, they allow their phone to distract them. We all know that feeling of taking a back seat to someone’s phone.
The word may have come from teens, but the concept…well…you know you who you are if YOU do this! I confess, I have. The last time I was the “phubbee,” on a date with my husband, I said we needed a no phone rule when we’re on a date. After all, if it’s really an emergency, we’ll get a call, not a text. I’m sure you have had countless times where dear old mom and dad don’t get the time of day when your child’s phone pings the next social media “happening.”
Teen have lost their manners when they phub, and so have we. Maybe, tonight, at the dinner table, you can involve the family in deciding on no phubbing zones. Like the dinner table. Or the weekly car ride to soccer practice. I host international students every year, and on the way to the airport to send my student back home to her country for the summer, I had THE best conversation I’d ever had with her. It reminded me how valuable car conversation time is! If you’re missing out on conversation time with your teen…try involving them in changing habits. Yours AND theirs!
Are you like me? Have you been sent/forwarded something that caused your “skeptical” alarms to go off? I graduated with a degree in Journalism, and I just can’t help myself from being a skeptic when faced with some wild and (truly) unbelievable story that is spreading like wildfire. If adults can be fooled, how about kids, who often don’t have a clue where to go for “real” news. Growing up in an age of newspapers, where journalistic integrity was at least held up as the standard (whether always followed or not), older generations are more used to researching, asking questions, and challenging a source when something seems “off.” But our kids are getting most of their news from their feeds, and who knows what they are hearing and believing? In fact, Common Sense Media in an online report (with great infographics) found that “less than half of kids agree that they know how to tell fake news stories from real ones.”
One encouraging item in the above-linked report is that kids tend to trust news from family more than any other source. If you want to help your teen become a THINKING consumer of news media, there are some things you can do. Commonsensemedia.org has some great resources and ideas. I usually go there for analysis of TV shows, and movies from a parent’s perspective (you’ll find out in detail why a movie is PG-13, or R-rated for instance). But they also have a lot of insightful articles about how we as parents can help our kids use media wisely and well. Two articles there that will give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids are: “How to Spot Fake News,” and “Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News.”
I remember vividly two letters I received from students last year recounting the effects of sexual abuse in dating relationships. In one case, a girl was experiencing constant nightmares a full two years after experiencing sexual force in a relationship with her 8th grade boyfriend. The other was depressed and cutting, again years after sexual abuse in a middle school relationship. But sexual abuse doesn’t just happen in the context of romantic dating relationships. It may happen at the hands of a “trusted” family friend, neighbor, or family member. We all hate to think it could happen, and parents may be the ones most likely to think “I would know if my child had been abused.” However, if some estimates are true that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been abused in some way sexually before the age of 18, then many more of us have children who have experienced abuse than we think. Why don’t our children tell us? According to an article about child sexual abuse, children don’t tell because of…
Threats of bodily harm (to the child and/or the child’s family)
Fear of being removed from the home
Fear of not being believed
Shame or guilt
The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress says: “If the abuser is someone the child or the family cares about, the child may worry about getting that person in trouble. In addition, children often believe that the sexual abuse was their own fault and may not disclose for fear of getting in trouble themselves. Very young children may not have the language skills to communicate about the abuse or may not understand that the actions of that perpetrator are abusive, particularly if the sexual abuse is made into a game.”
Do your children know that they can talk to you? That you will listen? Maybe it’s time to have a conversation. Start with reading this article, and when you have that conversation, be sure to let your children know YOU can be trusted to listen and understand, and that nothing that might have happened to them is their fault.
In addition, here are some local resources…hotlines you or your child can call.
YWCA West Suburban Center. Glen Ellyn. Hotline: (630) 971-3927
Community Crisis Center. Elgin. Hotline: (847) 697-2380
One of the funniest comments I ever got was from a student who said that at first she expected to see some old person with warts show up as the Teen Decision speaker. Others were similarly relieved…”‘I like how you didn’t just say ‘Sex is bad. Don’t have sex. Back in my day….’ You talked about how it actually is.” While we immediately dispel students’ notions about boring or irrelevant sex ed, it’s not so easy to dispel the misconceptions many ADULTS have about the abstinence message. Today I watched a YouTube video of a 20-something sex educator who has multiple videos mocking abstinence education as “abstinence only,” “pledge cards,” “purity rings,” and “lies, lies, lies.” The false stereotypes were rampant…and it made my blood boil. So, let’s tackle just one common misconception: That abstinence education is “shame-based.” One of the ways to connect with teens, whether as a parent, or a Teen Decision speaker, is for them to know you understand their world, their feelings and the pressures they face. That includes the desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend and the urge to express their desires physically. Shame is a poor motivator, and is never part of our classroom presentation, nor should it be how you approach your child. Instead, we’re matter-of-fact about discussing sex. And that makes it less awkward. There was a study some years ago of teen-parent conversations about sex. When parents didn’t show nervousness or discomfort (I know, that’s not easy!) but were straightforward and calm when discussing sex, teens were more likely to be OK with having those conversations, less nervous themselves, and more likely to feel parents (YOU) could be approached with questions and concerns. We want to send the message that there’s no shame in having feelings and desires, but managing those desires in a way that leads to good relationships and dating practices is key to a healthier, happier future.
Next time, I’ll tackle another misconception…that the message to wait to have sex is “fear-based.”
If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that we regularly encourage parents to discuss topics of safety and health with their children. One topic that bears regular repetition is pornography, and we are always happy when we can pass along a new resource to help you discuss the difficult topic with your teen.
On a personal note, please don’t shy away from this topic. The landscape of porn today is more more relentless, dark and dangerous than just a few decades ago. It is worth trying to steer our children away from it, however daunting the task may seem. You can be successful in turning young people away from porn. My husband recently shared a story from his childhood:
I went over to a friend’s house and brought Braveheart for us to watch. It was on VHS. Partway through, the movie stopped and Olympic gymnastics started. We thought the video had stopped, but no…it was still playing. Eventually, the movie came back on. Then I realized my dad had taken the VHS tape and recorded gymnastics over the part with some nudity.
My father-in-law cared about how his son grew up, the kind of man he would become, and the images he would see. It is humorous now, in a way, but also something for which I, as his son’s eventual wife, am forever grateful.
This article builds off of the previous post, which can be read here.
My dad’s parents taught me to play card games and told stories about my Grandpa beating all the other soldiers at Cribbage. My mom’s mom taught me to bake — real, old-world baking with lots of butter, yeast, and white flour. And the stories she told about my mom’s dad taught me about farming and life in the American Midwest. We lived a plane flight away from both sides of the family, and still my grandparents had a profound impact on my life.
Today, grandparents often play an even bigger role in children’s lives. In general, their health is better and they live longer. As more families include two working parents, grandparents are picking up the slack with childcare. And for the grandparents who do live far away, technology like Skype and social media make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Last week we looked at the importance of children having a strong family identity. This week we’ll look at how grandparents specifically can connect with teens and help give them that sense of identity.
How can grandparents connect with their grandkids? There are several obvious disconnects between grandparents and teens. They are separated by not just one generation gap, but several. Their interests, abilities, and experiences are very different. They may not even live anywhere close to each other! Yet intentional steps taken by grandparents and parents can facilitate good connections, which hopefully a teen will quickly reciprocate. Here are some ideas, written as steps a grandparent could take:
Invite each grandchild to do something unique with you — just the two or three of you.
Teach your grandchildren a hobby or skill, such as fishing, cooking, woodworking, etc.
Attend their events, even the boring ones: recitals, baseball games, marching band parades.
Plan an event, outing or vacation for either all the men or all the women in the family. This is especially beneficial when teens hit 12 or 13 and are going through puberty.
Invite your grandchildren to events and social gatherings that are important to you, whether that’s church, the local VFW, or Rotary club. Let them meet your friends.
Ask your grandchildren to teach you a new skill, such as digital photography, or game, such as Minecraft.
Use texting and Skype to communicate, even if it feels difficult to learn.
If you speak a second language, teach your grandchildren some of it. Have a few words that can become part of the family vocabulary even if the kids don’t become fluent.
Talk about family traditions you enjoyed from your own childhood. If the tradition hasn’t continued, find a way to restart it.
Gather a few time honored recipes and teach them to your grandchildren.
Keep track of special events, or big games or tests, and call or text your grandchildren on those days.
Start a collection together (dolls, stamps, postcards) and build it, whether you are together or far apart.
Share this post with the grandparents you know. I hope there will be one or two new ideas for building family connectedness.
Sadly, I know there are many cases where family brokenness makes forming a strong family identity difficult. Next week, we’ll look at navigating the ups and downs in a family.
*Several ideas from this post were first shared in this article, which is a faith-focused article about passing on religious beliefs to grandchildren.
A few months ago, my husband and I said good-bye to the last of our grandparents, my husband’s Grandma. For the last decade or more, every 4th of July, her children and their families would gather at a lake house — a group that grew by one or two (or five) each year. She lived to see 25 great-grandchildren born! Today, if you want to know what our family is about, you only have to stop by that lake house this July 4. I expect all of the traditions will continue, from shooting off our own fireworks, to building some new addition to the house, to taking the requisite family photo — more difficult as the family grows each year. The family is competitive, stubborn in its generosity, efficient as only engineers know efficiency, and completely devoted to each other.
As those 25 great-grandchildren age, their family identity will keep them grounded. Research backs this up. Family stories and a child’s ability to see herself as part of a bigger picture play an important role in helping children navigate challenges and stress. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“[Researchers] developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.
“Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
“Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families…. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
So how do you create a strong family identity? I offer some suggestions below, and then next week, we’ll continue the discussion by looking specifically at grandparents.
Family artifacts. Share stories about items that belonged to other family members or which have been passed down through generations. They don’t have to be valuable! My husband keeps a few of his Poppy’s books (some of which still have Poppy’s old business cards tucked in as bookmarks). I have a pair of my Grandma’s shoes — the ones she got in Germany as a refugee during WWII. When we visit my parents’ house, we use a tablecloth made by my Grandma and her sisters, and hear again how incredible it is that they crocheted the whole thing by hand.
Make and keep traditions. If you don’t have any traditions yet, it is never too late to start. You could look through old photos to get ideas of activities you want to repeat — family memories you may have already forgotten but want to rekindle. Or, decide as a family what would be really special to do, and to keep doing. My friend’s family picks up take-out Chinese for dinner every Christmas eve. Why? No one knows. But it has become tradition.
Share photos. This can mean looking at albums together, but it can also be an opportunity to leverage social media. Throwback Thursday is an internet tradition of posting pictures from way back when — why not start including some from WAY back. Scan family photos using one of these methods or at a local convenience store with photo services. Then they are ready to share — and you may be surprised at what your kids are willing to post on their social media. Grandpa bowling with a handlebar moustache? Awesome!
Family Core Values. Like a business, sit down together and identify what your family’s core values are. Let everyone contribute. Write them down. If you have younger children, write down values on popsicle sticks and use them to build a house together. Repeat these to each other. “Remember guys, we’re the Smiths. And Smiths stick together.”
In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to explore the topic of family stories and how they can help us be better parents. In the comments section, share a way that you keep family traditions!