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

 

 

 

inward thirteen

Once the twelve year change is finally done, many teens hit a more inward phase.  This can be around thirteen and half, or for some just over fourteen years of age.  Sometimes we see this in the way a teen withdraws into their own room, or into their own art or whatever their interest is.  Some draw close to a beloved parent or other adult whom they trust and enjoy spending time with, but some teens are almost hyper-critical of their  parents, especially their mother, and are mainly just a shadow disappearing into their rooms.  It may seem that on the surface that not much makes them happy, so they sort of come across as the Eeyore of the family.

While the media often portrays this type of developmental stage as a teen wearing black sitting in (or wanting!) a  black room in a dark mood, I think it is a little more positive than that.  By withdrawing, the teen begins to figure out who they are in relation to their family, their friends, their community.  He or she protects him or herself from other’s criticisms, almost like the coccoon of a caterpillar so that the teen can emerge as the butterfly later down the road.  In homeschooling, I think this idea of the coccoon can extend to actually wanting to attend school because there may be more “privacy” there – an independent life without parents looking over one’s shoulder, or siblings looking over one’s shoulder.

Does this look different for a child raised with a lot of family attachment?  I think it does.  The really attached children I have seen, no matter what their type of schooling, often seem to withdraw from peers  but crave being in the family more, particularly those coveted one on one dates with a parent.  They may spend time in their rooms, but also enjoy “dates” with their parents without siblings around, may roll their eyes at some traditions or the idea of family vacations, but still have a terrific time. In fact, I think this age can be one of the times where we feel as if our insistence upon the family unit may really pay off!  However, if  you have done this, and you don’t feel like this age is working out that way for you and your teen and you feel like you failed, don’t panic.  Every teen has a different personality, a different temperament, a different love language, a different level of extroversiona  and introversion.  As long as there is nothing involving self-harm, being bullied or bullying other people, etc and you feel you have done all you can, then you can hold  your steady with your ho-hum.

Here are a few of my top tips in dealing with thirteen/fourteen year olds going through a more inward phase:

  1.  Keep a steady rhythm, especially limits on technology if that is involved, and bedtimes.  Meals and eating patterns seem to get more erratic around this age, so I think not just relying on the teen to fix themselves something but to have family meals continue just the same.  Your protection is important right now for health and developing healthy habits – this child is not 17 or 18 or even 16; there is a difference!
  2.  Do not  push for constant involvement with siblings or cousins or even friends, but do have some expectation as to what their part in a healthy family life would look like – game nights? Dates out with a parent?  A sibling day between your 13/14 year old and a sibling?  Family vacations- with or without a friend?  Do they have to help take care of a younger sibling? I find for many homeschooling families with these patterns in place, things may not shift a whole lot, but for some families it does depending upon the personality of the teen – so again, make your expectations known and be ho-hum about the emotional response.
  3. Many thirteen/fourteen year olds feel deeply at this age, but their responses can often be one word; they may shy away from physical touch by a parent.  Only you really can observe the child in front of you and decide how to approach that, when to push or not push for that further emotional intimacy. Sometimes it is okay for things to lie fallow for awhile; it is okay to be ho hum about things; please do not criticize so harshly – thirteen and fourteen year olds really take it to heart.
  4. Do plan time alone with your thirteen/fourteen year olds, especially if you have younger siblings in the house.  Many teens desperately need time away from younger siblings.
  5. Teens of this age usually have interests, and if they do not have interests, I think that for the sake of balance, see what interests you can help your teen discover.  Encourage and spend time on those, within balance. Many younger teens try to do all the things, and find themselves cranky and exhausted.  Protection is important for this age, but so is interest in the real world, in different cultures, in different ideas – otherwise the teen remains the center of his or her own universe into adulthood.
  6. Teens this age usually grow in the idea of responsibility and that not everything is someone else’s fault. If you don’t see this coming along, that may be something to nurture.
  7. The most pivotal time for adolescence is the fifteen/sixteen year change, so if you are dealing with things that seem out of the norm problematic, I highly suggest counseling and getting outside help in order to set up a better foundation for that change.  Boundaries and consequences, close family times, may be something that is argued about, but also leads to the adolescent feeling most secure.
  8. Sometimes adolescents need help in calming their emotional life and learning how to be less impulsive and dramatic, and some need help in raising empathy, sharing emotions, forming relationships.  Only you can decide what your teen needs.
  9. Adolescence is not a stable time, and many missteps can happen between the ages of 14-18.  Some adolescents really develop critical problems in their thinking about themselves and the world, or develop habits that aren’t healthy. You really need to be around, present, and while maintinging a ho-hum attitude, be ready to provide protection, or balance for your teen when they can’t do it themselves, consequences and boundaries for when they try out the wrong things, and help sooner rather than later if things are problematic.  Rudolf Steiner, the foundation of Waldorf Education, often said the times of hearing the inner voice most strongly may occur around ages 19, 38, and 56, so we try to give our teens the best foundation we can in the times of 14-18.

There is much more to say about the healthy development of adolescents, but I would love to hear your experiences. What were you like as an adolescent?  Does that influence how you are parenting your teen?

Blessings,

Carrie

Skills for High School (and life!)

We have one teen getting ready to go look at colleges and apply in the fall, and one child who will be entering high school in the fall.  These are such  interesting and often challenging ages to parent. I don’t think I ever doubted my homeschooling skills as much as I did when my oldest was in eighth and ninth grade.  I think this is because we as parents can see what skills will be needed for success in  the upper grades of high school and what will be needed in college, and we wonder what we will do if things don’t come together  (or as homeschooling parents we wonder if we are doing enough).

This leads me to a question:  what do you think eighth and ninth graders really need to be able to do in order to navigate high school (and life) successfully? I woud love to hear your thoughts!  Here are a few of my ideas for the important skills teens need for high school and beyond:

Communication Skills – this includes written communication, public speaking,  recognizing nonverbal cues in other people, presentation skills, and being able to collaborate on a team.  I think this is where things such as vocabulary and fluency in writing and speaking  counts, and so do things such as knowing how to introduce oneself and others.

**Ways to develop this:  4H and Toastmasters, work and volunteer experience, being on a team in any area- sports or otherwise, communicating effectively at home and pointing out cues and emotions,  increasing vocabulary in the later middle school years.  If you are the homeschooling teacher – assigning papers, research papers, and oral presentations.

Organizational Skills – this includes physical space planning (ie, the teen can find what they are looking for), mental organization, planning and scheduling, time management, prioritizing

**Ways to develop this – using a calendar or planner, using checklists, working with deadlines  for your homeschool, developing accountability outside the home to mentors, other teachers, volunteer work or a part-time job

Leadership and Teamwork – this, to me, involves initiative, making decisions, contributing, responsibility, respect of others and listening to others, humility, problem solving

**Ways to develop this – volunteer and work opportunities, allow decision making for teens and don’t bail them out of the consequences, let your teen figure out the possibilities – don’t do it all for them

Work Ethic -this includes dependability, determination, accountability, professionalism

**Ways to Develop This – assignments with deadlines in homeschooling, don’t skip the hard or boring all the time, work and volunteer experiences, the development of healthy habits at home which requires a regularity in doing things

Emotional Intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills

**Ways to Develop This- talking to teens about their feelings and helping them use “I” statements and how to be active listeners, basic anger management and conflict management skills,mindfulness techniques,  nurture motivation when your teen is interested in a subject or has a passion and teach them  how to set goals around their passions, provide and model optimism and encouragement

I would love to hear your ideas!  What do you think is important?

Blessings,

Carrie

PS. If you are looking for more on this subject, you might enjoy this back post on Life Skills for Seventh and Eighth Graders and some of the resources I recommend!

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

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