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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do insist on family meals, family vacations, family activities. They may grumble and complain, but may secretly be glad!
- 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!