Nurturing Parenting: The 12-14 Year Old

One interesting thing that Waldorf Schools typically do in sixth grade (at least in the United States) is to have the students make dolls.  These are  not put together the way a professional dollmaker would put a doll together,  but more from an organic process that almost follows the development of the embryo itself and forshadows the physical development of the human being as it comes to life.  From loving nothingness to a small tightly wrapped ball (the head), expanding into the universe as a defined trunk  then with limbs taking shape (arms with a thumb and legs with feet)  and finally  a little being with twinkling eyes,  beautiful hair and clothes.

This fulllness of the human being is then echoed in seventh grade physiology, in eighth grade studies of reproduction, and in tenth grade in the studies of embryology.  This beautiful expanse of the human being is coming at a time of intense fragility of the 12-14 year old.

It is easy to think that once one is through the nine/ten-year-change, that the floodgates open wide. I have discussed some of these issues before in a series on portals.  And yet, there is still a twelve-year-old change to follow, and a fifteen/sixteen year change, which to me may be the most dramatic of them all.

Much like the toddler stage of life, young people of this age need protection at this time.  This is the time of the middle school grades in the United States, and often noted to be a very difficult time due to differences in physiological development, peer cliques, and I believe that the use of social media has compounded these issues. Being rather stuck between wanting to be more adult-like but also have the freedoms of childhood is difficult for the child, but also for the parent!

There is a certain fragility and uncertainty in these years that are like no other. Balancing the freedoms often provided to these group and the structure is a navigational process. I believe this age group needs protection from their limitless energy and wanting to do too much.  The limits of this age group in doing activities has essentially been eliminated. In the past, one might start playing sports in middle school (and you didn’t get much play until 8th grade) or doing more than one activity in high school. Now children in middle school have been playing sports for years and doing many activities.  They need help setting guidelines for sleeping, healthy eating, and more, and helping in meeting those guidelines even when they would rather stay up extraordinarily late or eat only sugary snack food.

So, in parenting this age group, please consider limits.  Children of 12-14 should not be treated like an older teenager with all the fun and none of the responsibilities.  While there is a campaign to“Wait Until 8th” for a smartphone , many twelve to fourteen year olds are navigating social media sites and media usage.  Media should not be limit-free for this age group!  Sending nude pictures, sexting, and using social media and texts in order to bully  a peer is sadly not uncommon in this age group because again, many of the children this age have no limits in terms of hours on their devices, and parents are not checking phones and computers.  One way to think about setting limits on media is to use a device like a Disney Circle; you can see a review from 2015 here; I believe now certain sites can be more easily blocked than what this review has stated.  Some parents have no idea what their child is doing on line or that they have multiple used profiles on Instagram or are on Snapchat or other sites. Devices such as these can trail usage across multiple devices.

Children of this age may need help being active in a free and easy way.  Many children this age like to “hang out” but the days of 12  and 13 year olds zooming bikes around a neighborhood or playing pick up games may not happen as much in the past.  How can this child be active without or in addition to an organized sport?  This typically requires free time that has no agenda. Having time to just be protects children and gives them space in this fragile state where they are emerging and trying to hear their own voice and may even give them time to connect with you, the parent.  You are still more important than peers at this age. In fact, I think the ages leading up to the fifteen/sixteen year changes may be one of the times you have the greatest influence.  So don’t give up! 

Lastly, help your child not to be a terrible human being with peers.  No, we can’t police everything, and yes, perhaps we were not policed in our peer relationships at this age in the past, and yes, friendships come and go in the middle school years as middle schoolers try to find their own voice and where they belong.  However, I think because so much of the free group play of the early years and early grades has been lost and replaced by adult-led, structured activities, children this age are coming into the more socially difficult middle school years with even less social abilities than in previous generations.  Help your child to learn what a loyal friendship looks like; is that friend really a friend or not; what bullying and toxic behavior looks like, talk to them about peer pressure in the areas of drugs and alcohol and sexuality.

Provide areas where children MUST show responsbility, whether that is nurturing the home, helping to care for a younger sibling, help with elders in the family, run a tiny business from the home.  Too many of the children this age have many toys and a run of what they want to do with no limits, but yet have no responsibility outside of themselves in terms of contributing to the family.

Most of all, just love them.  These years bring many changes in development in all areas being human.  Remember that this age is not 17 or 18 though, and as opposed to guiding an older teenagers with check-ins, they may need more parenting and limits than an older age group.  Being involved in this fragile, almost back to toddlerhood stage of needing protection is how it should be. It is a fine line between hovering and meddlesome and being helpful; boundaries are key to navigating this.  If you need help, I highly suggest you make friends with parents who have older children that you admire.  It can be helpful to hear what worked really well at this age, especially in those older teenagers that might have a similar personality to your younger child.

Blessings,

Carrie

 

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Rhythm Renewal!

I am very excited that this may be the week that some things straighten out and we will have less emergency driving for medical issues amongst our family members. Being closer to home is ALWAYS helpful in re-establishing rhythm.  I have heard from many of you that this autumn has been difficult for varying reasons, and that we all need a rhythm reboot!

The benefits of rhythm are so astounding in forming a peaceful family life.  Having a clear flow to the day ( a flow, not a rigid minute-by-minute schedule) helps everyone approach the day with understanding and cooperation.  The only person who can determine the rhythm that is right for your family is YOU and your family members.  No two families are alike, and no two families have the same daily and weekly rhythm.

I can’t totally guess what our rhythm will look like once we have our four-legged family member home and the amount of care that will entail, but I do know basically for now our rhythm looks somewhat like this:

Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays:

  • Morning Rhythms
  • High School Main Lesson
  • Second Grade Main Lesson (includes physical activity outside)
  • Seventh Grade Main Lesson
  • Lunch and Rest
  • Writing or Health
  • All together projects
  • Barn Life for the older two children on Tuesday, possibly other days as needed. Fridays I usually stay home and clean and get ready for a peaceful weekend.

And on Wednesdays it looks like

  • Morning Rhythms
  • High School Main Lesson
  • Seventh Grade Main Lesson
  • High Schooler Outside Class/ Lunch
  • Barn Life

And on Thursdays, our crazy day

  • Morning Rhythms
  • High Schooler at outside class
  • Second Grade Main Lesson
  • Seventh Grade Main Lesson
  • Lunch
  • Music classes/Music Lessons

I wrote a seven-part series about rhythm in 2012 that might be of help to you if you are trying a rhythm reboot!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Why Did We Think Parenting Would Be Easy?

Parenting is hard.  Some ages are harder than others.

It is messy.

It brings up triggers and baggage.

It brings up woundedness.

It can bring out our best side, but also our worst side.

It brings up differences with our significant other and magnifies them.

It is hard.

I think parenting is all of those things.  Why did we think parenting was going to be easy?

I think the more that we can acknowledge that things are different from when we grew up, but that development in and of itself is not different, is where we can start to heal and find the beautiful in the messy.  Finding that each child is an individual, but that development also takes a fairly predictable course can be comforting and exhilirating and helpful.  All at the same time.

I have posts about EVERY age from birth all the way through age 16 on this blog under the “Development” header.  You can find a lot of support there in those back posts. While I do not write as much regarding each specific age anymore, those posts are there for you.

Hang in there, parents.

Find the beautiful in the messy.

Find the beautiful in being a human being and in raising one.

Find the common ground with your significant other.

Find the lovely in the hard and the smooth inside all of those rough edges.

It is messy. Some children and personalities are honestly harder than others.  It is okay.   It is parenting.

Blessings, and love,

Carrie

 

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,
Carrie

Raising Children With Integrity

It seems to me there is an epidemic right now in American society of narcissitic males in my age group.  I have heard from many women dealing with this, and it is very sad how this is affecting families.  (If you are unsure what this is, try this article; it is a personality disorder that begins very early in life, cannot be diagnosed until adulthood, and is very difficult to treat).  Somehow, though, I started making the leap from narcissism to  – well, what makes a good human being?  How do I want my son or daughter to act in a relationship when they have their own families?   These traits, of course, are not exactly opposite narcissism another since narcissism is a psychological order and I am talking in generalities about raising children who can function in relationships.

However, I think much of this boils down to integrity.  I have seen so many relationships ripped apart by not just self-centeredness (which is different from narcissism) but by a complete lack of integrity; public lives are not at all the same as what is going on in private; the partner and family are not first.  I think what is most difficult about this is the model it sets for children; children generally know something is going on when things don’t match up.

So in order to teach integrity, one must live in integrity.  What does this mean?

I think it means several things:

Merging your personal and private lives.  Don’t act in such a way or be into things in your private life that you would be completely embarrassed and upset if your children found out.  Be consistent across the arenas and roles of your life.  That is part of having a moral character.  Having a conscious and understanding of what you are doing when it is vastly different from one role to another helps you correct this and stop.

Believe in people, help people, build people up. If you live in a family  with other people, it is not just about you.  Self-centeredness is not a good trait on the job or in the family.  We expect adolescents to be self-centered, not forty-year-olds.  Be equitable and fair in how you deal with people and teach your children to do the same.

Be accountable – apologize first, admit when you are wrong, try to make amends. Love people enough to build bridges with those you can (and I am not talking about toxic relationships here.  For these people, I think it is important for our children to see us as we model boundaries).   Hold your children accountable in how they treat you, other members of the family, themselves, and in relationships outside the home.  Accountability in relationships and respect in relationships go hand in hand.

Follow through – If your word means anything, you will follow through on what you say and what you believe and your children will do the same.

Be honest and loyal, and teach your children not just how to not be a bully, but how to empathize with people and feel what they are feeling.  Part of integrity requires emotional intelligence, and again, thinking about others and being a good communicator. Relationships sometimes dissolve, not over bullying, but over one party not being able to read the other and respond to that.    Teaching children how to deal with conflict in a productive manner is so important.

Believe in the positive; look for the helpers and  any good things in the tragedies of the world.

Blessings,
Carrie

Standing Tall

In a world of beautiful Facebook and Instagram posts, it is not always easy to admit when we struggle with our children.  Actually, it is fairly easy to admit about struggling with a little person and their inability to nap, or late potty training, or  high energy.  I find we can even talk and laugh about the 8-14 year old set; the talking back and sassiness; the energy and then the dip in energy.  However, it is not always as easy to talk about the mid- to- late teenaged years and all the things the teenagers are dealing with.  Stress.  Depression. Suicide attempts.  Alcohol and drug addiction.   Overdosing.  Eating disorders.  Other mental health disorders.  Rage.  Date rape.  Violence from a dating partner.  Still dealing with the aftermath of parental divorce.   There are so many challenges to face, and parents are facing them with their children in love.

Several weeks ago,in a town not too far from us, there was a beautiful young lady who committed suicide.  I don’t know the story behind it, but I feel so deeply for not only her, but for her parents in this horrific tragedy.    I cannot imagine what they are going through; perhaps it is such a  lonely time being in the aftermath, but perhaps also there was loneliness in parenting leading up to this event. I can imagine that and think about that.   The things that go on in the mid to late teenaged years, (unlike potty training mishaps or picky eating or even tweenish talking back and asking for advice on all kinds of  parent forums), seems private and underground.  This is partly out of respect for the beautiful and sometimes oh so fragile human being blossoming before parents’ eyes, but also partly because it is an era of happy social media selfies where major issues don’t have much of a place.

Even if a family is not dealing with catastrophic issues, there can be a sort of  low-lying pressure surrounding  these years...a competitive game of sorts.  At least among the middle to upper class families that I observe, even in the homeschooling community,  I think it can be a race in a stream–of-consciousness way, like a James Joyce novel:  how many sports and how good are you and will you play in college and get a scholarship in college and how many AP Courses and Honors courses are you taking and where will you go to college and what will you do and how late can you stay up doing homework because I have to stay up until 2 to get everything done and how many places do you volunteer because you know that will look good on a college application and what do you mean you haven’t visited 12 or 14 colleges yet I mean you are a junior now and are you dual enrolling and why not and how about finishing college before you are 18 and what sort of career will you have and are you sure you can get work in that field…..

My hope for bringing this up is actually  not to be depressing, but instead to be hopeful. There can be a lot of funny and beautiful moments in the mid to late teenaged years.  There can be so many opportunities for connection, so long as you don’t let them  constantly bury themselves in a video game or on a phone. Insist they come to the lake with you or go out with the family for a walk or spend time with their siblings.  Help them get involved with things that matter to them and yes, I think there is truth in keeping them somewhat busy if they have that temperament and personality ( or letting them be if they don’t have that personality!)  Help balance them, know when to push and when to let go, but most of all, just love them.  The mid to late teenaged years are a hard time. Love will see them through.

Most of all, and this perhaps sounds a bit odd to those not in this stage of life yet with children, but this time is for you.  Find your beautiful tribe of mother friends who will support you and love you and take you to tea and dinner so you can talk and be together.  At this point, it really doesn’t matter anymore if your children and the children of your mother friends get along.  You are so far past play dates.  These relationships and this love is for you!

If you have a spouse or partner, lean into that person.  Love that person.  Be together, and be the wall and rock that the storm of teenage can bounce off of. Stand tall and stand proud. Find yourself again, because your teenagers need to see you as a person and see what you stand for.  Be that for them in the midst of the low and high pressure points of these years. 

And most of all, don’t be afraid to get help and to ask for professional support.  In so many of these cases, I have friends who said getting help was wonderful.  They wished they hadn’t waited until things snowballed further along.  Get help and get it now.  Involve the whole family and see what beauty and strength and courage can come out of these  harder situations.

To all of you standing tall with the struggles of your mid to late teens, I see you.  I am so glad today’s generation of teenagers has parents just like you.  Stand tall and fly high for these young people.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

Vibrant Life! (Or, Get Out Of Your Own Way!)

I have been talking to so many people lately who are experiencing tremendous growth.  They are building businesses, creating new loving relationships, experiencing an increased level of intimacy with their partners and children and more!  It is very exciting, and so inspiring!

Yet, there is a certain group of people I hear from.  For lack of a better word, they are stuck.  I understand stuck; I had a fairly fallow period last year where I felt stuck for awhile.  However, sometimes stuck can mean  years  in something that is like a never-ending cycle that the person  can’t  seem get out of.  Of course, bad things can always, always happen to good people!  However, we always have a chance for growth in how we respond, and by being open we are to change and growth.  And I have found in talking with mothers and spouses and young adults, that this cycle often has identifiable patterns, if only one could see them.

We can always ask ourselves, “What area of my life am I “stuck” in right now?”  We can look for substantial patterns by reviewing our own biography – where were our major life events, and when?  Were the big things external or internal?  Was I  a mover and a shaker or did things just happen passively to me?    What were my reactions to things?  My reaction to stressful things?

Identifying that we are stuck, (and I think most of us have been there at one point or another, again,  I know I have!)  is only part of the battle.  The other part of it is DOING something about it. And this is where I find most people have trouble.  Because whether or not they want to admit it, there is some kind of pay-off to being stuck in the same patterns and cycles over and over.  Maybe it is easier to withdraw rather than stand up.  Maybe it is easier to not choose intimacy and vulnerability.  Sometimes just being comfortable and not having to risk anything is enough of a pay-off.  Sometimes being rigid is protective.  I don’t know what the pay-off is for any particular reason; that is something that they must discover within themselves.

If we can identify patterns in our life, where we are stuck, and what our pay-off is, I think then we have a chance at changing.  And in order to change, we have to be more open and more flexible than ever before.  Some people are just not flexible or ready for growth. This step can take time. Sometimes this step can take the help of a really good counselor or other mental health care professional.  Because if we are willing to grow, then we can think in the possibilities and in the positive mindset of growth.  The most amazing things can and do happen!

Once we are open and ready for change, we can set goals, and then break those goals down.  We may  have to think in the smallest of steps.  For example, what one step could I take today toward this goal that is now broken down into smaller steps?  What are the few things I can do each day to make that one step happen?    Realistically, what do I need to make the smallest of steps happen? Do I need support from a friend? Therapy?  More money coming in?  To free up time?  To change my priorities?  To put myself out into the world in a vulnerable position and accept that?

Don’t be stuck; get out of your own way and make your beautiful life happen.  You have it in you!  The possibilities are before you. ❤

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Special thanks to my good friends S. and N. for many discussions on this topic!!