After The Fifteen/Sixteen Change

Many of you know that Waldorf Education and also in the way that I parent, I look not only at seven year cycles but the main developmental transformations of certain ages – six/seven, age nine, age twelve, age fifteen/sixteen.

Fifteen/sixteen is the one with the least amount of information out there if you Google, and yet I think it is the most dramatic developmental change of all..  You can see some of the characteristics of this change in this back post about the development of the tenth grader.  Many Waldorf teachers talk about how the fifteen/sixteen change is closer to the 9 year change (just bigger issues and challenges, I think!)

What is interesting to me is the feelings that are evoked in the parent when this transformation is done or fading away, much like when the nine year old change is fading away.  After the nine year change, the child hits ten, which is often seen as the hallmark “golden year” of childhood in Waldorf education.  I don’t think that happens after the fifteen/sixteen change for most teens.  When I talk to mothers of other sixteen and half year olds or seventeen year olds (and I have a daughter, so I am talking to other mothers with girls),  all of them say the same things:

They are guarded.  We don’t really talk that much.  We can have a long car ride and exchange only a few words.    I can feel them pulling away.  It is hard to know how to parent – how much to really input and how much to let go (by the way, I also hear this statement from mothers of boys who are about 18 – 19  if they are struggling with life changes).  

What seems to emerge after the trials of the fifteen/sixteen change is a calmer, more self-assured young person.  They don’t need to talk about everything anymore.  They are trying to handle things themselves in a more self-contained way than ever before.  They are preparing for their own life where they must stand on their own two feet.  Parents often are not sure how much to intervene or offer help at this stage.

So, with that in mind, I think it is really important for parents to:

  1.  Keep the time and space open for conversation and  connection.  Insisting on a walk together, or working together shoulder to shoulder, or that the car is a phone-free zone and we will must have conversation, or just find other places to have that time and space is important.
  2. Do insist on talking about the big things, even if you don’t get a great response.  This is a great time for coaching about risk (physical and emotional) and relationships.  Remember that this is the time when teens are at their riskiest due to the proliferation of reward receptors in the brain, so they do need to hear the messages.
  3. Do help them make great friends through emotional coaching.  At this time, you can’t make friends for them, but you can help them sort through personality types, boundaries, and patterns.  Tenth grade is often a time when one circle of friends is discarded and another circle becomes in place.  However, teens NEED good friends at this age. Good friends will help each other not take risks that are beyond stupid.  I talk to homeschoolers who often have a tight circle of good friends, which is great for this age.  However, if they only have one friend who sometimes is a good friend and sometimes is not a good friend, that can be harder and I actually would find it worrisome. While social skills are still maturing even at the ages of 17 and 18, which is something we don’t always remember,  I feel the depth of intimate relationships with family and friends can be a good indicator for how romantic relationships may go in the future, at least for girls.  Some teens need help in really being a good friend or in emotional IQ or in boundaries for relationships.  Share your experiences below; I would love to hear!
  4. Stop micromanaging. Whether or not they get their homework done in the time frame you would do it is not your problem.  Homework, getting to practice, those things are just going to have to be the test case for how to manage life.  And they won’t do it the  way you would do it.  Quit arguing and be supportive!  Being a teen is hard, hard, hard for many.  Some teens do just sail right through the later teen years, but for many THIS is the bumpiest time of life.
  5. Agree on the big rules.  Sleep, meals with the family,  media limits, getting work done comes to mind.  I find media limits to still be a thing many parents are struggling with.  Set the rules for the big issues and enforce them.  Little by little by the end of the first semester of senior year, your teen needs to start to take over even the bigger things.
  6. However, do keep track of the big things.  Some things that seem a little overwhelming to many young people I talk to include getting a driver’s permit or license (divided between the teens I talk to; some are thrilled and some are scared), job applications, college applications.
  7. Do insist on family meals, family vacations, family activities.  They may grumble and complain, but may secretly be glad!
  8. Do get some support from other parents who have children past the fifteen/sixteen change; even parents of fourteen and early fifteen year olds may not really understand where you are.  Even if it is just the smallest conversation in passing as we can longer the share the stories that are no longer ours to share, it helps to hear from parents with teens facing the same sorts of things – relationship changes, expectations for the future, etc.

Share your experiences below!



Let Me Tell You Your Mission (In Case You Forgot)

One thing a friend of mine and I were talking about recently is that there is room in the adult world for all kinds of people with all their various quirks and personalities and temperaments.  The diversity of people is such a beautiful thing, and I know I am so grateful that different people want to do different jobs than I would want to do; that different people have different strengths and abilities; that different people even look different and live differently because I find so much beauty in all the varying cultures and faces of the world.  I love it!

So why do people act as if our sole parenting mission, and yes, especially in the middle and upper classes, is for our children to get into a good college and be on a college track?  I am not saying that education is not important.  It is important, but how can we balance this in a healthy way?

Having our teens stress themselves out to the point of having psychosomatic illnesses and fearing for the future and not wanting to grow up because being a teen is already stressful enough (so how stressful must adulthood be?) is not helping this generation.  ANXIETY has now taken over depression as something teenagers are dealing with.  According to this article in the NY Times, 62 percent of undergrads are reporting “overwhelming anxiety.”  There has been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers.  

So, exactly what happens when the push, push for the “good college” is acheived?  What happens in real life outside of this?  My point is that people (and teenagers) are made of more than just their academic portfolio.  There is space in the adult world for many people with their many likes and dislikes and interests and passions. In fact, the adult world probably needs you especially, teenager who is different.

So, parents,  let me tell you your mission in case you have forgotten.  You are here to support your teen and to help guide them.  If you see them putting such pressure on themselves to perform, how can you step in and help them? What will they really need in the adult world to meet their definition of success?  Is their definition of success even healthy? One of the many points in the NY Times article above is that parents are not always driving the anxiety of these teenagers anymore by pushing them, but that instead the teens are internalizing the anxiety themselves and pushing themselves relentlessly.  Health and social relationships are, to me, more important and deserve even more time than academic work.  

You cannot live their life for them.  You are here to help your teen unfold and be who they are going to be.

Life is messy.  Being a teen is messy .  Be supportive and be kind, because you may not know much of what your teen is dealing with at all.

When people ask me about my parenting and goals for my children, I essentially say I want them to be healthy and helpful human beings.  Human beings who are good and loyal friends and family members who will help others.  Human beings who are ethical and who do not divide their public and private lives.  Human beings who can relax and have fun, and yes, make a contribution to something greater than themselves and support themselves.  That is an exciting parenting mission.

Blessings and love,

The Fifteen/Sixteen Change

In the world of Waldorf homeschoolers, there is a lot of press about the developmental changes surrounding the six/seven year old, the nine year old, and sometimes a little about the twelve year old.  However, the fifteen/sixteen year change is rarely mentioned on blogs or websites.  I guess there is no one left Waldorf homeschooling by then!

I have a back post on the sixteen year change,  and other back posts on the fifteen year old, but today I really wanted to focus on that transformation.  It could truly be THE most important developmental shift to occur for a child; I think because it catapaults the child into the more adult world than ever before.  And whilst this change has hints of the nine year change, I think it has its own dynamic and importance.

Here is why:  I see a lot of adults these days that are not very good at adulting.  The fact that we even have a term called “adulting” in the United States is probably a good indication that people are struggling with it.  Oh sure, we all struggle with it at times, and I think more because many of us have lost the sense of our elders and many of our families are fragmented, so being in our 20s- up to age 50 sometimes is fraught with more difficulties than ever before as there is no one to ask about our adult challenges!

So, I think this change is super important in this day and age.  Please, please, don’t hold your child back from this change by doing so much for them and denying them the consequences of their actions.  Please, please do give your more phlegmatic children who need a little push into more independence that push that they need.  Here are some things to consider:

Help structure your home so that your teens have freedom but also RESPONSIBILITY.  I see many parents jumping into the “freedom” part – no boundaries, a lot of handing things to their children that the teenager doesn’t have to work for – but little in the way of RESPONSIBILITY.  Summer jobs are going by the wayside, according to  this article  from June 2017 in The Atlantic.  Saving up to earn a car  is no longer done a lot.  I actually don’t think it is laziness, as some in the media have purported (which is something I think every generation since The Greatest Generation has probably said about the upcoming youngsters).  Life really is different today – from most of the jobs in my area that used to be held by teen now being held by retirees to the need to excel  in so many areas early to get into a “good college” – that teens have a different set of pressures than even twenty years ago.

Help your teen navigate this stress.  Some teens were published in the UK Guardian in March 2014 about how they feel about the world and the place of teenagers in it.  This absolutely could be the most incredible generation yet, but the stresses of the world seem to weigh more heavily upon this generation, just like it does upon us, because of the immediacy of social media and media in general.  The weight of events in countries far away seems just as impressive as the ones in our backyard.  It is a lot for us to handle, and it is a lot for teens to handle.

Help your teens learn boundaries.  The only way this can happen is if YOU have boundaries, and to help your teen not only by modeling but by helping them work with self-initiation, motivation, persistence, self-regulation,  and self-control. Many parents seem to struggle with this, so let me give you a little list as to why boundaries are important.  Adults with good boundaries can do things such as:

Listen to other people and respect other people’s “no’s” and feelings

Set limits on their own behavior or any impulses that would be self-destructive

Set limits on toxic people

Accomplish goals and tasks

Acheive healthy intimacy with othersBe honest with others

Can solve conflicts in a constructive way

Hopefully these skills will lead to not only a life of satisfaction and adventure and whatever the individual wants life to be, but also an ability to form relationships, lead a family in a healthy way, provide physically for themselves and a family, be open with their own gifts in helping humanity, and to be brave and courageous in dealing with personal matters and in situations of the world and societal structures where help  is needed.

Many blessings,