The Authentic Heartbeat of Parenting

I was thinking this morning about running and metronomes; that rhythmic quality of running on the pavement or around the track is like a metronome set to a certain tempo; steady and going at the same pace, reassuring in its steadiness and how we can speed up or slow down to match the metronome. Unceaseless and rhythmical and the source of strength and rest.

This, to me, is so much like parenting.  We need find that authentic heartbeat, that authentic pace, and be able to hold it steady when the times of development and changing and growing in our children is not so steady.

When older children and teens are ready to spiral out of control, we are there with our authentic selves, and holding that authentic pace so if they are trying to speed so far ahead or so far behind, we can reach down and gently whisper, “Stay with me for a little while.”

When do we lose our pace?

When we become overwhelmed by our own baggage and our own triggers and our own emotions and our own lack of self-care.   I admit it has happened to me so much over the course of parenting!  I used to feel ashamed.  Why is this triggering me?  Why am I so frustrated with this particular piece?   But I don’t feel ashamed of it anymore; the longer I parent I can separate myself out of it all, the longer I just hold that it will all work out, the more I know my children have their own journey and their own work to complete that is not my work.

And then it came to me…

I am the metronome, but what am I set to?

Inner work and the work of grace.

I am married, so hopefully I am set in time with my spouse.

Can I keep the pace myself and not forge ahead with a clash of emotions?  Can I keep it less about me and more about just the gentle pace of growing up, the pace of our values as a family, and less about the tiny situation at hand?  The big picture is calling and the tiny details of today’s scrabble must not get in the way.

Parenting older children is tricky business. No one can really tell you how to do it as every family is unique and every child develops at a different time and pace, even if following along in a general way the developmental and archtypal patterns we have come to recognize that are common to children everywhere.

Development matters.  We are having an amazing discussion over on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page about parenting the 9-12 year old, and so much of it has to do with when the developmental changes (and on what scale) these changes hit.

The  reality is that all children eventually grow up, so changes will come, even if not at the standard times. And every family is different, so it may look different.  All we can do is be the steady pace, the gentle guide, the wonderful whisper of ease for those children who are finding no ease in the moment.

Stay strong,

Carrie

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How to Talk To Your Teen About Teen Mental Health and Suicide

This past weekend, I was at the Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschool Conference.  One of the most important sessions I attended was about teens and mental health, and I wanted to pass along some of the wonderful work the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is doing for teen mental health and suicide prevention.

One of the big take-aways from this session is that we should be having layered conversations not only about mental health with our children and teens, especially by age 13 and onward, but also specifically we should be talking about suicide.  The suicide rate for American teens (2016 statistics) was 6,159 reported deaths by suicide for youth ages 10-24.

It is the SECOND leading cause of death for teens!

If the second leading cause of death was due to lack of seat belt use or eating tomatoes or whatever, we would be talking about it.

But because it is suicide, we don’t talk about it.

There is a very steep incline in terms of suicide death between the ages of 10 to ages 14-16 (meaning it is very rare to have a death from suicide at age 10, but then the curve of number of deaths by suicide by age goes up very sharply).  Suicide cuts across all ethnic groups.  No one is immune.  Every person in my session had been touched by suicide in some way.

Girls attempt suicide more than boys, but boys are more successful in succeeding and killing themselves, and for every death by suicide 100-200 teens make an attempt.  Up to 17 percent of teens have reported attempting suicide in the last year and 8.6 percent attempted suicide more than once.  It is not “attention seeking,” as some onlookers ask – it is often a feeling of wanting to disappear and not be a burden.  It is complete hopelessness.

Risk factors include:

  • Health factors:  undiagnosed or underdiagnosed mental health disease
  • Pyschological risk factor such as perfectionism/very black and white thinking (which is normal but should move past black and white thinking in upper adolescence)/perfectionism
  • Past history of abuse/brain injury/Suicide in family.
  •  Life events can be a trigger but not the only thing.

Warning signs include changes in behavior for your teen, withdrawing, isolating, agitation or being easily angered, increased anxiety, changes in sleep or appetite, expression of suicidal thoughts, giving possessions away. Usually the person feels hopeless with no reason to live, feels as if they are a burden to others, feels trapped and in unbearable pain.  Hopelessness is a major feature.  Humiliation can be another risk factor/warning sign for suicide in teens, when teens often feel as if everything they do is in a fishbowl of everyone looking at them.

Protective factors against death by suicide include feeling connected, regular health care and mental health care, learning and using coping strategies, and being willing to seek help.

You can acknowledge your teen’s changed behavior, and you can say you have noticed that they seem to be dealing with a lot and that sometimes people who are dealing with a lot may think about killing themselves.  It does NOT increase suicide if you talk about it, or directly ask about it. It may provide some relief to the teenager, and you can also then know the teen’s ideas or possible intentions and reassure them that they are not alone and that help is available and GET THEM  HELP.

At this point, not only is immediate mental health contact needed along with the immediate reduction of what is stressing the teen, but also TAKE the step to secure any item that could be used lethally – unload and dissassemble firearms that might be in the home and LOCK them away, take any old prescription medicine hanging around and get rid of it, etc.  You can call 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741-741  in the United States for help.  Do NOT leave your child alone!

Here are some of the free resources mentioned in this session so  you can keep having these conversations  with your teens.  There is an Ad Council campaign and series of You Tube videos called #seizetheawkward.  It was done by a number of actors/You Tube stars and while the  ad campaign may seem edgy to you,  in group testing these were the only ads that got the teens’ attention to watch.  It is aimed for 16-24 year olds.  Here is one of the Ad Council videos to get you started, but there are number of them you can watch with your teens and get those conversations rolling. #seizetheawkward

Resources:

1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741 741

The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention  (there are chapters in all 50 states in the United States)

More Than Sad is the program developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Just like talking about healthy relationships, about sex, about drugs and drinking, let’s keep talking to our teens about mental health, suicide risk, and coping strategies.

Blessings,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

Friendships: Part Three: Ages 14-15

This is the last part of our series on friendships from ages ten to fifteen.  Today, we are jumping into looking at the fourteen-year-old ( which is often a much better time than being thirteen and hiding in one’s room) and the fifteen-year old.

It can be really important to some fourteen-year-olds to really belong to a group, but some may need help untangling and being untangled from a group.  This is the age where the girls especially really want to fit in to some elusive and sometimes exclusive group.  She may pick friends or even a best friend that she has no shared interests with, and not a lot of connection even,  but just feels that person is  for whatever reason now her good friend.  She may try to join into a group or clique just to be a part of it without really having a great connection to those people.  Criticism or discussion of different friends begins in earnest this year, noticing the differences or social problems of varying friends or people at school. However, fourteen-year-olds are generally better about talking about things that have gone badly between them and a friend and trying to restore the friendship rather than the thirteen-year-old who just lets the friendship drift away.

Boys often have a bit of any easier time. They still may hang around in a gang; they may or may not have a “best” friend and they may or may not care at all about that.  They do choose friends that they like rather than shared activities.  Often they still hang out with neighborhood friends, whereas girls may be done with that around this age.   Some fourteen-year-old boys still don’t have many friends, or only one friend they really like, and that is certainly okay as well.

What  you can do to help: Girls in particular often want to feel “accepted”  and hence start looking to their own place to belong away from their family.  I think based on the family as the first and most important unit of socialization, it could be important to let teenagers know that  siblings can be close friends, and that the family is such an important thing outside of friendship.

Talk about cliques and groups.  Talk about conflict mediation and conflict resolution.  Talk about how being an individual, and about diversifying friends and encouraging friendships outside of the clique with a different group.  Talk about bullying and social exclusion if you think that is going on, and how and why to be an includer if your child has a temperament that lends itself to that.  This article talks about dealing with cliques   and this article has 8 tips for dealing wtih cliques.

Fifteen-year-olds often have less emphasis on cliques, although many are still influenced by their friends in regards to clothing choice, music, etc.  Some fifteen-year-olds (and this is where your boundaries as parents are important!) may be pairing off into romantic relationships that are occupying more of their time than their friends.  A deeper capacity for caring and sharing may exist than before. Mature friends can accept differences between one another and can maintain closeness despite separation or time. They also can juggle several close friends and no one feels threated by that. I feel this often comes AFTER the fifteen/sixteen change.   Right before this change, I think there can often be a big shake-up in friends – teachers have noticed that for years the fifteen year old year (what is typically sophomore year in American high schools), often sees their students have a big change in friends.    This can also be a time of feeling restless and lonely and depressed, which may also change after the fifteen/sixteen year change is complete.

Your fifteen-year-old may be more likely to seek out advice from friends than from you, the parent.  Therefore, part of dealing with these friendships and even romanatic relationships outside of the family is putting a priority on the family.  Family days, family traditions, are all still very, very important.  It is a source of stability that many teens can’t even really put into words, but do still value.

What you can do:   Hopefully you have many talks with your children by this point as to how to be a friend, how to mediate conflict, how to apologize, how to recognize bullying or aggression and how to cope with stresses.   You are really preparing them for what comes after this fifteen/sixteen year change and as they become more and more independent and perhaps bring less to you regarding interpersonal conflicts.   Junior and senior years of high school are really the young adult phase where you are letting go, being there,  giving that right amount of space where guidance exists.

Blessings,
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

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

 

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,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

Development of the Tenth Grader

Today is a quick sneak peek at the development of students in tenth grade. In Waldorf Education, this corresponds to an age close to sixteen.  If you are searching for ninth grade, close to age fifteen, try this back post.. If you are searching for age fourteen, which is typically closer to grade eight in Waldorf Education, try here..

Tenth Grade (closer to age 16):

  • Usually there is  reduction in mood swings, irritability, greater ability to manage anger.
  • Can be the year of the “Sophomore Slump” – many students feel “graduated” from childhood and are weighed down by the beginnings of adulthood but many sixteen year olds can’t look much further than today.  They are much more interested in the here and now than the future.  This year can also be a cocky year for many students where they become overconfident in their abilities.
  • A teenager of this age is often asking  “how”?  How do I bridge between myself and the world?  The process interests them.  How did the world come into being? How is “X” true?  How does this work?
  • There is a growing independence, especially often with branching out into driving a car or holding a part-time or seasonal job.
  • Teenagers  are more conscious of their clothing, their gestures, their behavior.
  • They no longer feel connected to their classmates, their teachers, their parents and feel vulnerable, lonely, not sure how to stand on their own. This is typically a hard year at school. They may completely change sets of friends as they struggle to find out who they are and may separate from their usual peer group.  For some students, this leaves them vulnerable to peer pressure and the behavior of the teenager can be very different this year than in previous years. This can be an age of super strong attachment to friends, especially different friends than in the past,  or to a love relationship. It can be an age of intense peer pressure and manipulation and of heartache in relationships.
  • They may completely change extracurricular activities
  • For those of you who follow Waldorf Education, there is a correlation between the nine-year change and this sixteen-year change. If you think back to how your child handled the nine year change, there may be a correlation as to how they handle this period in their life.
  • The maturation of the physical body has often slowed down by this point, the emotional chaos has also slowed down, but the teenager comes face to face with the idea of mortality. They may discover they have physical limits as far as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, being a perfectionist, carrying too many activities. Sometimes teenagers end up sick during this period because they are doing way too much, and being sick actually affords them time to step back and come up with priorities and choices that reflect these priorities.
  • There may be spiritual questions, philosophical questions but other teens may be more into having a thrilling physical life. Sometimes this can lead to poor choices and dangerous situations, including use of alcohol and drugs, teen pregnancy and other situations.  If they can experience their own mortality, their own spiritual separation and resolve it in a healthy way, they can participate in the world and find the answers to their spiritual questions in ways that are satisfying.
  • Around 16, the brain is usually fully capable of thinking in abstractions, in generalizations and can compare, contrast, analyze and synthesize information. They may still want to debate on things before they have all the material digested, and often come off as arrogant to adults.  They love finding flaws in adult reasoning, but at the same time, adults are blamed less and less and instead it becomes more important to  the adolescent how he or she takes responsibility for things.
  • The challenge to find a new way of relating to life during this time period can lead to crisis in many arenas – eating disorders, sexual relationships, alcohol, drugs and tobacco, etc but most important is that the child knows they will never, ever be abandoned, and that with freedom comes responsibility.  House rules and boundaries are still important – school and work are integral parts of life.
  • After this phase, one sees a time of distinct ACTION. The action can come from what was gained and learned in the earlier years, and the years of 17 or so to 21 can be most fruitful.
  • This is a great article from the Wall Street Journal that talks about supporting development from ages 13/14 through age 17.

Blessings,

Carrie