Where is your teen headed?

Looking ahead

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.

Dads, daughters, and risk.

Their is plenty of research on the link between girls growing up without dads, and heightened incidence of risky sexual behaviors. But what about the KIND of fathering a girl gets, and the “doses” of father time? It turns out that encouraging dads to take an active role in parenting their daughters is KEY to whether or not they engage in risky sexual behaviors. A study looked at sisters who had different amounts of time, and different quality time, with dads…for instance, because of divorce or separation. An older daughter might have had more “dad” time than a younger one growing up, and it showed in different outcomes.

According to the article, “ItTeenager and dad‘s not enough for a dad to just be in the home,” said Danielle J. DelPriore, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah’s department of psychology and lead author of the study. “The quality of a father’s relationship with his daughter has implications for both the overall monitoring she receives from her parents as well as her likelihood of affiliating with more promiscuous or more prosocial friends.”

Anyone knows how exhausting it can be to parent teens, and keep tabs on their safety…and two parents are better than one if you can both play a part.  The article points out: “Parental monitoring refers to parents’ supervision over their children’s lives, including their communication and knowledge about what a child is doing, who she is hanging out with, and how she spends her time and money. Research has shown that low parental monitoring is associated with increased drug and alcohol use, delinquency and other behavior problems.”  If you are a dad, know how important your presence and input are!  If you are a mom, encourage your daughter’s relationship with her Dad (we’re not talking about abusive dads of course), whether you are an intact family or not. It can really help her take the path to a better future.

Talking to Teens about Love

When our Teen Decision program comes to a school, teens often are often either nervous, or skeptical about our “sex ed” program.  I once had someone write me that they’d expected the presenter (me) to be an “old lady with warts” but was pleasantly surprised to find our program fun, informative, and relevant to teens’ real lives.  While we do discuss the benefits of abstinence (and the risks of sexual activity), we spend FAR more time talking about relationships, knowing that teaching them how to recognize and have healthy relationships is far more effective in helping teens make good choices about sex than scaring them about teen pregnancy and STDs…although there is a place for healthy fear about these very possible consequences!  And you know what?  That’s what teens really want to talk about as well…relationships…love! Now that it’s summer, love (or infatuation more likely) may even be blooming for the teen in your love foreverhome!  I found this article about talking to teens about love, and I thought it could help you to talk with the teen in your life about what love is, and how to learn how to BE a healthy person in a healthy relationship.  I particularly liked one point the author made, that we can help any young person recognize that a good dating partner is someone who has demonstrated the qualities of a good friend:

What about a younger child who isn’t necessarily old enough for a romantic relationship? Is there a way you could ease into the topic?

The basics, like how to choose a friend. The same skills that kids would use to choose a friend — whether it’s generosity or kindness or loyalty or empathy — those are the same traits they’re going to be looking for later in a relationship. So parents can help guide kids, and they can lead that discussion at home.

I do a lot of work in the younger grades with friendship skills: reciprocity, reflective listening, turn-taking, sharing. All of these very basic skills that you need to teach young kids so that later on, they not only have the skills to maintain a healthy relationship, they’ll know how to identify a healthy relationship, too.

Help Your Teen Get Out of a Bad Situation

x-planI read this great post by a dad who counsels a group of young people in recovery from drug addiction. He asked these kids recently: “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?” They all raised their hands!

Moms and dads, we need to BE our kids’ way out! This dad has a great idea…a deal he has made with his own kids that they can text “x” and it immediately gets a response from home…a phone call to his teen where a “script” is followed, like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.  Be ready to leave in five minutes.  I’m on my way.”

Your child knows they can count on you to get them out of a situation that they know isn’t good, but their excuse in front of their peers is “I have to go…I don’t know what’s up, but my Mom just called and she’s coming to get me.” They save face, and they learn how to recognize and withdraw from a bad situation. Here’s the hard part for us as parents: No questions asked, and no recriminations. They get to tell you as much or as little as they want. That’s hard, admittedly, but read HERE why the X-Plan involves keeping that promise to your teen.

Musical.ly app Presents Problems

Commonsensemedia.org is my go-to site to check out anything media-related. One of my goals is to keep parents informed about the teen world…and teens are into musical.ly, an app that allows you to “Create beautiful music videos with your favorite songs, and share with friends.”  Musically.ly claims it is “the world’s fastest growing social network around music and lifestyle.”

Thesemusically app logo parents discovered a whole lot more:

“I thought it was just an innocent app where you can lip-synch and make music videos….  I took a look at what she had done, and there were some music videos that had inappropriate language in them…. On top of that, I realized that even without Internet access, anybody in the community could view her videos, and she could view theirs. There is a setting to set it up that only her friends could view her videos, but it still really bothered me.… After I started exploring the app, I realize that at the bottom of the video people could put hashtags. I clicked on a hash tag, which took me to another video with a different suggestive sounding hashtag at the bottom that I clicked on, which then took me to videos that were Adult content.”

If your child searches the hashtags, they WILL find pornographic videos. It took me less than a minute after I installed the app to find it. The hashtag that brought it up was #adult

“My kids had worked together and used our pets, stuffed animals and even we parents got in on making some pretty hilarious music videos. The BIG problem is that a lot of the available music and sound bites contain all the very adult language and innuendo you hear on the radio. So when left to her own devices, I found my 10 year old lip syncing to suggestive lyrics she didn’t even understand. And dancing and gesturing the way a rock diva does- not the way I want her spending her free time. What’s worse is that the rating system becomes addictive (see the reviews by the kids). She and her friends kept pushing the envelope to see how many “likes” they could get. What originally was supposed to be a private account became public for the thrill of getting the approval of strangers. Definitely started off sweet and innocent, then due to these unsavory lyrics, went down a bad path when I wasn’t watching. Family decision was made to delete the app tonight amid lots of tears and even I was sad to see our cute videos go.”

 

Modesty and Sexual Harassment — Prevention vs. Victim Blaming

There is a broken record that plays at our house, where both my young boys grab toys and hit and then blame the other brother for “starting it”: You are responsible for YOU.  I don’t really care who started it. I care about my children learning to keep their hands to themselves and to respect other children’s persons and property, regardless of what happens to them. Parents, I’m sure you understand. This concept is not new.

Why, then, does this concept go out the window when it comes to modesty and sexual harassment; prevention of sexual assault and blaming the victim? When stories like this one show up, there is a great teaching opportunity for parents of both boys and girls. In this instance, I learn about a 15-year-old girl (whose photo, scraped from her Facebook page for the article, reveals a broad, generous smile, among other things) complained to an airline about being groped by a fellow passenger. She could provide insufficient evidence, no actual charges were brought, but the airline evidently responded in a letter: “The flight attendants and passengers also stated that you and your daughter were allowed to move to other seats several times, that Chelsea repeatedly moved in and out of her seat, crawling over the other customer who was attempting to sleep, and that your daughter wore extremely short shorts.”

I can see two equally likely scenarios that could have played out, and likely the truth, which we won’t ever know, is a mixture of the two. I can see a bubbly, well-endowed teenager in revealing clothing unable to sit still on the long flight, moving in and out, bumping against a passenger whose proximity is uncomfortable for her (who finds the proximity of fellow passengers on planes comfortable?) attempting to get a better seat by complaining to the airline. I can also envision a man capturing the opportunity afforded to him by the movements of his young, attractive seat mate, knowing it is difficult if not impossible for women to ever prove sexual harassment occurred. But really, the truth doesn’t matter to me, because I am not sitting in judgment of either individual (for which I am thankful) — what I care about as a parent is what I need to teach my children. You are responsible for YOU. 

If you are sitting next to someone young, vulnerable, attractive, and no one is watching what you are doing: show deference, avoid looking at anything that would normally be covered up, and keep your hands to yourself. If you are young and attractive (or old and attractive, or female) dress and behave in a way that discourages or redirects sexual advances — not in short shorts. (Hmmm, I think that is the sound of the comment box filling with criticism and dissent.)

Hear me out: what I teach you, o daughters of mine, is not what I wish you had to know, but what I know you need to know. Is it fair that black mothers have to teach their black sons how to behave so that police don’t shoot them? No. But they do, because their sons need to know it. In the same way, women today need to know how to deflect negative sexual attention, and we all know that short shorts is not the way to do that. Can we please just acknowledge that modesty is a form of protection and prevention, without being accused of suggesting that an immodest woman is “asking for it”?

If you are reading this blog, you probably have teen-aged children. Whether they are boys or girls, please share a word with them about how to dress in the heat without risking their personal dignity, as well as how to interact with others in a world that does not live up to their high standards of what “should” or “shouldn’t” be okay in the clothing department.

Let this teen inspire you!

Thanks to the Huffington Post for bringing this story to my attention. The above photo was shared on Facebook by Eric Gaines with the following caption:

“I watched as this young kid was walking pass, stopped and walked over to this sleeping homeless man; touched him and began praying over him… This was an amazing sight! I pray this kid becomes a leader amongst his peers, and continues on this path!! Not all Baltimore youth are lost!!” (sic)

What a beautiful act of compassion!

Yet as I move beyond being thankful for this reminder of the good in young people, I reflect on what this photo prompts in me as a mother. As a parent, I have many kinds of desires for my children. Of course, I would love for my son to be the kind of young man who would quietly, humbly care about a stranger. But if I am honest, I would also love it if my son were smart, talented, well-mannered and known for such qualities. The question is, which desire is stronger? You see, I find it hard not to live through my children, and very hard not to puff up my own reputation through their accomplishments. So which do I want more? A child who would stop on his own, alone, to notice and care for another person who may never notice him back; or a child who wins grades, awards, and a great reputation?

Why do I have to choose? Because I expect that the humble goodness this teen demonstrated is snuffed out in families that prioritize recognition; and when grades or talents are prioritized, the pressure to perform leaves little time or energy for selflessness. If I only praise what brings my child (and by extension myself) positive attention from others, it is very unlikely that my child will one day act like the young man in the photo. In addition, my child will do what I do (most likely) — do I model the same kind of compassion as the young man? If this story inspires me to believe that some teens are really doing okay, it should also inspire me to look at myself and my parenting. Am I nurturing selfless compassion in my children by modeling it, noticing it in others, and reminding my child that I care more about how they treat others than how they perform? Or am I just another performance driven parent feeding off the recognition and accomplishments of my children.

And if it were my teen in the photo, would I allow it to remain anonymous? Or would I have to share it with all my friends? What would you do?

Be a pesky parent…it’s good for your teen!

With all the negative talk about “helicopter parents,” sometimes we are shamed into thinking we should be hands off with our teens.  Don’t you believe it!  There’s a difference between being overly controlling and properly supervising.  You child still needs you to keep an eye on things.  He or she may not like it, but your instinct…that being around and being aware will keep your son or daughter safe…is correct.  A study reported on recently in the Washington Post indicates that teens who spend more than the average amount of unsupervised time hanging out with peers are more likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and drink alcohol.  The study’s authors expected to see a greater protective effect from structured activities, but they they found that “Organized time, such as arts classes at school, religious activities outside school and community volunteer work, had a very modest protective effect. Kids with the most time in these activities showed a 7 percent to 18 percent lower than average risk of drinking or smoking.”  Compare that to the effect of unsupervised activity: “They found that teens who spent the most unsupervised time with peers were 39 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes, 47 percent more likely to drink alcohol and 71 percent more likely to smoke marijuana than average.” Apparently, it’s most important to avoid regularly letting our kids simply “hang out” day after day without any adults around to keep a watchful eye on things.

The biggest fibbers are…adolescents

Anyone with a teen or two has probably already had that shocking realization…”He’s lying to my face!”  We KNOW we taught our kids how important it is to tell the truth, and we know that they used to be so innocent!  Not anymore.  And it’s devastating.

A study of 1,000 people age 6-77 (published in Acta Psychologica) revealed that the most honest people are the very young, and the aged.  Teens, on the other hand, are the biggest liars, with 75% admitting to lying, with an average of 3 lies a day, while those 60 and older lie less when they do lie, and 55% tell NO lies.

What does this mean for parents?  When your teen vigorously denies lying, and passionately exclaims, “Don’t you believe me?”… don’t feel too guilty for being suspicious.  And a wise parent will check the facts if there’s a history of suspicious “stories” or an unlikely claim.  It might be worth calling Sarah’s mom to see if your little angel REALLY went to the mall, or if they were at that party she begged you to be allowed to go to but you said “No” because you knew there wouldn’t be adults there.

And be prepared for the consequences.  I’ve been through the teen years with my now grown daughters and I can testify that once trust is broken, it can take YEARS to regain.  It’s important to treat lying seriously (apart from punishment or removing privileges), by discussing the effect lying has on relationships.  I once asked my child WHY she lied, and the answer was “It’s easier.”  I retorted that it might seem that way if you want get away with something, but because of lost trust and lost privileges, life was going to be a LOT more difficult for her for a while.  She’s not a teen anymore, and guess what?  She DID grow in this area as she aged…or perhaps she just learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay.

Elite Youth Sports…and the Parenting Trap

little league batter

I’ll admit, I am not an expert on youth sports, or sports of any kind. But I have two kids who will need me to make choices about the activities they are involved in, and I therefore found the following article sad and fascinating. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, the basic idea is that parents are being convinced (often by for-profit sports organizations) to push their children into so-called elite sports at younger and younger ages, whether or not it is good for the child or the game.

I’d like to say that I would never fall into the trap of believing that elite youth sports are necessary for my child, but even with children who are still very young, I can see myself occasionally slipping into it. Maybe not the trap of elite youth sports, but certainly the trap of believing that I owe it to my kids to give them the best — and believing what others tell me about what the best is. From buying the most “educational” toys, to paying for the best junior music lessons or pre-schools, to “elite” sports camps, if I don’t shell out money for my child’s benefit, it is easy to make me feel like a selfish parental failure.

What makes parents susceptible to this Parenting Trap?

For starters, I have not led a perfect life. I have regrets. And what parent doesn’t want to fix their own regrets in their child’s life? I sure do. In a blog on a similar topic, youth culture expert Walt Mueller points out:

“Unfortunately, some parents see their kids as a second chance to fulfill dreams they themselves never realized.”

It is only a force of will that allows me to take my eyes off my self to see my child for who he really is and to ask myself, “Okay, since he isn’t me, who is this little bundle of hopes and dreams and what is it that will really help him flourish?” I might wish that someone had pushed me a little harder to stay in dance lessons when I was little, but that doesn’t mean that my child needs me to force him to stay with an activity he hates.

How can we get beyond the reach of the parenting trap?

Well, for starters, I know I need to come to terms with my regrets so they have no more power over my decisions. Maybe I gave up dance too soon, but there were a lot of things that I did instead of dance that I loved — would I give those up? No. More importantly, however, I need to remember that it is never too late for a parent to pursue their own dreams. If I want to dance, I can still learn to dance.

In fact, maybe my child will benefit more from watching me pursue my own dreams than he would if I push him to pursue my dreams for him.

My mother delayed getting a PhD when my sister and I were born. Did she turn her regrets into pressure for my sister and I to pursue graduate education instead of having families? No. She raised us, and then picked up where she left off, ultimately receiving her PhD a few years ago. Her example has given me more motivation than I ever would have received had she pushed me into a graduate degree.

So maybe instead of allowing guilt to push me into pushing my kids, I can worry a little less about giving my children an easy path to their dreams, and a little more about setting an example that it is never too late to work for our own dreams.