The Foundation Years of Ages 9-12: Decreasing High-Risk Behavior in Teens

Many of you have been following along chapter by chapter the wonderful book,  “Discipline Without Distress:  135 Tools for raising caring, responsible children WITHOUT time-out, spanking, punishment, or bribery” by Judy Arnall.

The last chapter we reviewed was the chapter regarding the teenaged years.  There were some very sobering facts in there, such as suicide is one of the top three causes of death in teens, that the average marijuana use in the US is age 14, that many children have tried alcohol by age 12.  This really has hit home  for me personally as I know three mothers  who have really struggled with their teens in the areas of addiction issues and sexual promiscuity.  One of the teens recently overdosed, was the victim of a crime,  and lost his life.  This is a heart-breaking tragedy and I have felt so sad about this.  As parents we always wonder what we could have done differently in a situation like this, and my heart hurts for this family.

Judy Arnall, in this chapter about teens, goes through some of the things parents of teenagers need (for our teenagers to respect themselves and others, to have their teenagers feel successful in their relationships, school, work and community).  She lists some of the reasons that teenagers try high-risk behaviors such as curiosity, unhealthy self-esteem and want to feel good about themselves, lack of coping skills to deal with their problems and needing to escape, not understanding that they can say “no” to a sense of obligation or pressure from peers or  partners, needing to feel grown-up, needing to rebel, needing to fit in and win approval of peers, needing to escape uncomfortable feelings, feeling invincible and not understanding the risks/benefits/ consequences, not being able to communicate their needs to their family.

I would add a few things to this list:  besides curiosity,I think  boredom coupled with  a lack of guidance by caring adults to channel this boredom or curiosity into healthy things, and also I think there is a   lack of something bigger than themselves to worry about.  I think this is extremely important.

I was talking to a dear friend about this chapter and she was saying one thing that really helped her in her teenaged years was that she was very into horses and horseback riding and that she had a horse who depended upon her every day to take of it.   That is something bigger than yourself.

I talked  about this book regarding  rites of passage  (, and part of the book asks essentially “what does your child do around the house that you could not be without if they were not there?”  There it is again:  what is your child involved in that is bigger than himself or herself?  How is your child tied to you, your family, your community?

If the average age of marijuana use is 14, and the average child has tried drinking before age 12, I believe the foundation for decreasing high-risk teenage behaviors HAS to start around that nine-year change (and before, of course.  Attachment and security and so many things are laid during that first seven year cycle)  But in many ways, I think because that nine-year change is a watershed where your child starts to feel separate from others, separate from you and the family, different, is noticing things about how different families and people do different things,  now is the time to start.

I have an almost nine-year old, and I am trying to formulate some thoughts in my head as to how to create responsibility for my child that is bigger than her, how to keep time together,how to keep  communication open, and how to best answer her questions about life.    I am thinking hard.  I have four years until the teenaged years, and this time is precious to me.  Is it to you?

It is NOT enough to just talk about drugs and alcohol and sex.  Yes, those conversations have to be there and they have to keep going throughout these years.  But, there has to be ACTION.   How will you help your child/teen structure their time, their environment, so these behaviors are less likely to occur?  What are the top three things in your house that your child KNOWS is not negotiable?  What freedoms can you give, but also what RESPONSBILITIES go with these freedoms?  WHAT does your child have to look up to , to participate in, to take care of, that is bigger than himself or herself? 

What community OUTSIDE the family is your child involved in and accepted in – is it one that you have helped create or one that just happened along the way?  I am sure both can be okay, but it is important to know what is going on in that community.  For example, how well do you know your child’s friends?  Judy Arnall brings up the point of creating a “secondary community” away from the school environment if your child is in school – through church or other religious outlets, through Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, through volunteering .   There HAS to be something bigger than themselves for these children.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Many blessings,


8 thoughts on “The Foundation Years of Ages 9-12: Decreasing High-Risk Behavior in Teens

  1. Perfect, Carrie!

    When I was teenager I used to volunteer in a elder’s shelter and I knew that some of them wouldn’t receive any visit if I wasn’t see them. This was great for my mind and for my parents minds. We never had moments of outburst coming from me or days with bad mood because I was bored… [they can assure this… 🙂 ] But I think the most important was that I grew up seeing my parents working as volunteers. Our living room was always full of mothers learning how to breastfeed, taking sewing classes to help with their families income. I’m sure their example was (still is) the best lesson they could teach for me and my sister.

  2. This is a beautiful post. As mom to three boys, ages 9 to 12, other than ‘knowing’ they would begin to feel differently, I did not have a clue about what that meant.

    By the grace of God, our oldest became interested in birding and photography at the age of 9. His enthusiasm has rubbed off on the two youngest ones, with the youngest tagging along until his interest sparked. It has been good fellowship for our 9yr. old, not only spending time with his brothers (who he admires to no end, for now, hehe) but, he has met folks of different ages, within the group who share ‘his own’ interest, which is woodworking.

    My husband and I did not know anything about birding and even less about photography. Still, DH became their go-to guy and took them where they wanted to go, made contacts with park rangers, local photo clubs, and folks in the Audubon society, etc.. in other words, really terrific ‘mentor’ type folks. Through these, they have met and befriended many people of all ages.

    Their enthusiasm is catching. I think the key was to find what they were enthusiastic about and just be their advocate. They take the lead, and DH and I follow along to keep them safe and aid their journey.

    We started out as the type who avoided over scheduling because of outside activities, but now, I find that these types of interests have sparked their desire to learn mathematics, language arts, and science (thanks to some really great input from scientists within the group).

    I think the key was just to advocate for them and be interested in hearing what they have been doing.

    They don’t go on about their internal feelings, however they will sit and tell me anything and everything they saw or did on a photo trip or birding trip or if they don’t seem as enthusiastic about their day, I can give them some extra cuddle-time.

    I hope this will help others as your post helped me.

  3. Pingback: Back To Basics: Community! « The Parenting Passageway

  4. Pingback: Third Grade and The Nine Year Change « The Parenting Passageway

  5. Pingback: This Will Keep You Busy: Links By Age « The Parenting Passageway

  6. I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say that I would be more than interested in hearing how you’ve incorporated the thoughts you’ve written about here in your life. These pre-teen years are so important!

  7. Pingback: Gentle Discipline By Age–Part Five | The Parenting Passageway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.