my teen is lonely!

It’s itneresting that I hear this not only from homeschooled families, but also from families who have teens in a school setting, and probably more from the families with teens in school.  The teen years can be hard in that teens are often figuring out who they are.  Cliques and bullying can be an huge issue, especially in the middle school grades of 6-8, despite everything said at school about inclusion and being kind to everyone. IN high school, this seems to dissipate, but friendships often fade away and shift, particularly around tenth grade typically.

It can be hard for parents to navigate this time.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell what is loneliness versus moodiness versus being withdrawn versus being anxious and depressed.  Teens may be moody (and when does that line cross from moody to depressed?), and  they can withdraw from groups of friends they previously enjoyed to be with a new group of friends (which many times is around 10th grade).  Maybe the teens feel as if they tried many of the clubs or things geared to their interests, but for whatever reasons, they didn’t make good friends out of it.

I have read some sources that say lonely teens go on to be lonely adults because they don’t learn how to function in groups and practice social skills.  Well, if that isn’t panicking to the parents of a  lonely teen, I am not sure what is!  And I don’t think that is necessarily true.  I have a different take. I think as human beings we are always changing, always growing, and that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Change is possible.  Some people are more introverted,  and if your teen is, they may be happy with a smaller circle of friends both as a teen and as an adult.  But if your teen is lonely, I think change can come  in the upper years of high school and in college, and often these teens garner friends for life in a different setting.

In dealing with this situation, I think it is very important that first and foremost your teen spend time with you and the family.  This connection is loving and grounding.  It may not replace the  friendships and peers that they are lonely for, but they will  know they will always be loved and that the family is the first place of friendship.  

And,  in this connection and grounding with us, we can help facilitate. No, you can’t set up  really set up playdates for mid to older teens, but you can talk to your teen about how sometimes we have a circle of acquaintances and that it is great to reach out to someone you don’t know as well to see if they would like to do something.  Providing that bit of emotional coaching can be really helpful.  I have seen that many teens are lonely, but none of them seem especially willing to reach out!  That is so hard.  We can also encourage jobs, volunteer work, and activities where teens spend a good amount of time with other teens for a common goal – sports, music, theater, robotics, speech and debate – whateve

For those of you with younger teens, you  can encourage groups of friends going to do something instead of having just only one friend that everything is done with.  This helps for the high school years where things dissipate a bit more. Tenth grade is particular seems to be an age where many friendships fall apart and the social circle shifts.  You can help your younger teen explore interests and connect with peers over that interest.

I would also make sure you as the parent are not projecting your wishes for your teen’s social life on to them.  Make sure that they are actually seeking friends before you offer any words or actions to them.  They may be happy with the way things are, and it is up to us to respect that.  So make sure it is true loneliness, and not just you projecting that you think they are lonely!

Lastly, teens connecting over the Internet has replaced much of the going and hanging out somewhere, so I think always being aware of your teen’s digital connections is important, whether they are lonely and seeking friends on-line or that they feel their social needs are met through on-line venues. It really is open to us to keep the lines of communication open on that and to set and use the  boundaries we set as a family regarding media usage.

I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for parents dealing with their lonely teens.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

going off the rails

I talk to many parents whose teenagers have developed serious problems with drugs, alcohol, addiction to media, toxic relationships and more.  Mostly this began in the middle school years, and just like a train coming down the track, the parents could see it wasn’t going anywhere wonderful.  Sometimes the situation was ignored, thinking it would go away, and sometimes the parents jumped in with both feet to try to derail what was coming.

Sometimes the situation could be handled and the teen overcame their challenges to envision a healthier future . Sometimes the child went right on to have increased difficulties with these same issues, now with difficulty having a functional young adult life.

I wish I could say I knew what helped one teen and why another teen .  Obviously, individual teens respond in different ways to intervention and we don’t always know what will help a particular teen.  I am not a mental health professional, and do not offer the suggestions below as such, but know these were some of the commonalities I have heard in talking to parents whose teens were successful in getting their lives together.

Open communication and respect for what the child or teenager was going through, even if the parent didn’t understand it all.

Unconditional love, BUT especially for older teens the understanding that you cannot control their choices and  you cannot enable them and protect them through their choices.

Understanding that you, as parents, and the other members of the family, have the complete right to be safe.

Investigation into psychological help, counseling, or residential programs early on instead of waiting.  Yes, you cannot run away from your problems but for some teens a change of scenery with qualified help really is wonderful and a game-changer.  And the earlier this happens, sometimes it can really make a difference.

Sometimes more structure.  This may include things such as changing school settings to a smaller, more structured program.

Increased physical exercise as possible.  Sometimes if a teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, this seems nearly impossible, but it does seem to help if the teen is open to it.

Increased time in nature with family.  Some parents have reported great success with camping, long-term hiking, or other excursions into nature.  Again, the earlier, the better.

The biggest piece of advice I have heard is that if things are going off the rails at ages 12-14 get help right then and there.  Do not wait! Investigate options thoroughly, and see how your child responds.

I would love to hear what you all think.  Let’s all help each other.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

 

the 3 stages of adolescence: takeaways for parenting

There are three distinctive stages of adolescence, and our best parenting should grow in response to these stages:

Ages 13-15/16 Early Adolescence

This is the stage of distance between “self” and “other”.  It involves the adolescent measuring him or herself against others. It is a time of uncertainty, emotional extremes, confrontation to clarify oneself against confrontation, and a time of building one’s own worldview apart from one’s parents.

best parenting:  walking the line between boundaries that provide safety and the slow opening up of the external world outside the family

Ages 15/16 to 18:  Middle Adolescence

This is a stage of more personal responsibility; typically a time of not wanting to be identified with childhood and a great enthusiasm for new challenges, wider contexts, and experiencing the push and pull of intimacy where oneself is expressed but there is still room for the other person; sensitive adolescents can struggle during this time

best parenting:  be on guard for escapism in response to that pull of vulnerability versus self-set boundaries; help the middle adolescent take responsibility and not lose oneself within the wider world; artistic work is important during this time period

Ages 18 t0 21:  Last phase of Adolescence

This is a time of figuring out not only who am i? but what do I want? meshed with the understanding of what am I capable of?  This must come from the will; mature adolescents will see where their path of development helps their fellow man.  This is a time of choosing their place in life, their work, perhaps a significant other or significant community.

best parenting:  since action comes from being capable, providing support and encouragement for capacities and capabilities is important; support for the ideas of the late adolescent; the encouraging of community

Share some of your best parenting practices for adolescents!

Blessings and much love,

Carrie

the hardest part about parenting teens – and how to fix it

I talk to parents of teens all the time, from all different walks of life.  Some teens are going along with school and activities; some are struggling with self-esteem issues due to learning disabilities; some are dealing with more serious issues like alcoholism, toxic dating situations, self-harm, and more.  Parents tell me over and over that there is very little support for dealing with parenting of teens, mainly because each teen is a complete individual, and there is a need for privacy so not everything can be shared the way parents shared things their toddlers or even early elementary children were going through.

The hardest part of parenting teens is knowing what to do!  Any general instruction seems to apply less and less and what happens in conversation really can be a reaction to a situation that already has taken place, and it’s hard to know how much to hold a boundary or push for more responsibility.  Our oldest will be turning 18 this summer, and we also have a fourteen year old in the house, so I totally understand these feelings!

The number one way you can fix the hardest part of parenting teens, besides spending time WITH THE TEEN IN FRONT OF YOU, is to understand teen development.  Every teen is an individual, but there are archtypal patterns to teenaged development that can help us figure out how to parent more effectively!

Early Adolescence- ages 13 to the big watershed changes surrounding ages 15/16

  • there is often an obvious placing of space by the teen between himself or herself and the family.  This is an age when many families complain their teens are in their rooms and not coming out.  This is a safety measure for a gradually new emerging human being who feels the need to protect him or herself as they gain their own perspectives on life.
  • this is often an age of confrontation against authority and boundaries, but behind that is often a measure of uncertainty.  Using communication skills can be helpful.  If you are unsure how to react, try reading the book “How to Listen so Teens Will Talk and How To Talk So Teens Will Listen.”
  • it is often an age of emotional extremes.  Ninth graders are certainly very much more like middle schoolers than eleventh graders.
  • It is a time of measuring oneself against others, which is why social media can be so harmful for many teens.  Please use boundaries and know what your children are doing online!
  • It is a time of using safety and boundaries (self imposed or parent imposed) versus delving into a more open world.  

How do you parent this stage?

  • Respectful communication
  • Spending time with your teen; they are going to open up working side by side, in the car, or before they go to sleep. Spend time with them!
  • Play ho-hum with the emotional extremes. Be steady.
  • Don’t let the world just open up with no boundaries.  They are too young and need your support, encouragement, boundaries, safety net.
  • Let them fail and take the consequences of things.  You can only help to a certain point regarding things that have to be done. Do not do it for them!  This will impair the later stages of development unfolding.

Middle Adolescence – ages 15 or 16 to 18

  • This is a time of increased personal responsibility and realizing that not everything is someone else’s fault.
  • They are experimenting with finding emotional intimacy in friends, maybe with a significant other, but hopefully finding a way that their own personality and beliefs remains intact in the relationships.
  • They don’t want to be identified with their childhood for right now!
  • They have enthusiasm for a new challenge and want to experience that within themselves or out in nature or in academics
  • They can feel inadequate or inferior and may hide their innermost feelings
  • Sensitive teens might regress and turn to escapism

How do you parent this age?

  • Understand their vulnerability; help them deal with their innermost feelings if they are sensitive but also let them take actions and fail – do not do everything for them in an attempt to shield them
  • Artistic work,whatever that entails, is really important for this age – so theater, drawing, painting, woodworking, building things, modeling or sculpting, handwork, book binding – are all really important forms for inner self-expression
  • Help them get the wider context and the enthusiasm for a challenge in a safer way, especially for those 15-17 year olds.
  • Be there, be present.  They need you to not do things for them, but to help them, guide them, empower them!  Some older teens need more set parameters than others.  Be careful with your own boundaries as to what you will carry.

Late Adolescence – ages 18 to 21

  • They are grappling with the big questions:  Who Am I?  What Do I Want?  What Am I Capable Of?  
  • Then they have to follow up these questions with their own actions – the actions come from their own abilities, so if they have had everything done for them in early and middle adolescence, late adolescence isn’t going to look pretty.
  • They still find it hard to accept criticism.  This can still be an age of idealism.
  • They may start to explore and recognize that their personal development also intersects with a cause or community and get involved.
  • They may find their own place, their own work, a significant other or group of friends and community

How Do You Parent This Age?

  • Support them as they try out different healthy  paths.
  • Help them develop a love for responsibility – if you did the work in early and middle adolescence, this will come naturally!
  • Help them identify the abilities they carry that will help them move into action
  • Encourage them

Those of you with teens, what are the most successful and least successful things you have done in parenting or seen other parents do during these years? I would love to hear from you.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

 

 

teens who don’t want to drive

Some teens are excited and ready to drive in the United States, but the latest thing that many parents are lamenting is that their teen doesn’t want to drive or even attempt to get their license.  This phenomenon has even hit mainstream news sources, like in this article by National Geographic.  It is definitely a national trend that I don’t think has an end in sight.  We are seeing a true shift that I think will last generations and may even extend as car technology changes.

I have read many of the articles on this subject, observed many of my teen’s friends, and have come up with some ideas of why this trend may be…

  1.  Teens are working less. You might wonder what this has to do with driving, but hear me out.   If the emphasis is placed on academic success rather than school being something one does in addition to other things, then the teen may not have the time or motivation to get a job due to so much homework and extra classes.  If they don’t have a job, they may not have money to pay for gas or insurance, let alone to save up for a car.  The teens I know who are driving the most  have a job!
  2. Teens have more friends on-line and are dating less than previous generations.  There is less reason to go out of the house.  Teens are no longer going to the mall and hanging out – they can hang out and shop in their rooms.  They may not be running out of the house to go pick up their girlfriend.   The digital age has changed the landscape of adolescence forever.
  3. Many teens have anxiety ( I have read estimates that span anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the teen population, depending upon what criteria is used), and the feeling that you could die or you could kill someone while driving a car makes driving a less than  tantalizing proporition to many teens.
  4. There are alternatives – rides with friends, Uber, public transportation, walking, and yes….parents often started  driving their children to activities at earlier ages, and are continuing, so why give that up?

Here are a few of my suggestions in dealing with reluctant teens –

I think the philosophy is always that the parents will do things for their children until the child can take it over for themselves.  In general, this age might be determined just by readiness cues and  seeing how responsibile the child  is in doing what needs to be done under supervision and then independently.  In the case of driving, the ability to drive is dictated by state laws, by learning new skills under supervision,by testing,  and yes, I think by having incentive.  So if your teen is reluctant to drive, perhaps have a conversation about expectations and what is holding your teen back.  Are your expectations clear to yourself and to them?

If you want your teen to learn to drive, and they are already feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork and activities, you may need to clear some space so they have the time to learn to drive.  It isn’t like cramming for an academic test.  It requires time, space, practice.

They may not want to learn to drive with you.  Or they may not want to learn with all their siblings in the car.  Some will learn better with Driver’s Education, some will learn better with a trusted relative or neighbor.

Figure out the expectation for how to pay for gas, insurance, a car.  These things can really hold teens back. If they have no car to drive or no way to pay for gas or insurance because they don’t have a job, what is the incentive for obtaining a license to drive?

Address anxiety. Sometimes having a timeline, a driving instructor, etc can help an anxious teen break things down into steps that seem doable.  The idea of testing may also provoke anxiety.   And as much as I hate to say it, I know people who never were comfortable driving and nearly always lived in areas where there was good public transportation available.  It may be hard to think this way if you live in an area where good public transportation doesn’t exist, but that may be where your teen ends up as an adult.

Lower your expectations.  Most of the new drivers I know are driving surface streets to school and back (probably a 5 miles radius) or to a job that is also within a five mile radius.  Not every new driver is ready to drive all over the city.  Think about where your teen would be okay driving when they do get their licenses.  This is particularly important for homeschooling families, who many times do have classes or activities that are far away.  If you goal is for that teen to drive to those far away things, your teen may or may not be comfortable with that as a new driver.

Would love to hear your thoughts,
Carrie

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!

Blessings,
Carrie