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

 

 

 

 

Friendships: Part Two: Ages 12-13

Back today with our friendship series for children ages 10-15.  Today we are talking about twelve and thirteen year  olds.

Twelve-year-olds often have an increased ability to separate from their parents at this age, to really say what they do or don’t want to participate in with the family, and this really extends into their friendships.  Twelve is much calmer than age eleven for the most part, although groups of twelve-year-olds can be difficult to manage for teachers and others.

Many twelve-year-olds are branching out to a larger group of friends, and most of the relationships are calm. Friendships that break apart may just sort of drift apart and away, rather than have some sort of traumatic fight.  Twelve year olds are interested in more than themselves, and may be actually intersted in how a friend feels or thinks.  Twelve year olds are better at taking responsibility for their own feelings and their own part in relationship situations that go awry.

What you can do to help:  Since twelve can be more of a harmonious time with friendships and things may just be going along with an established group of friends, I think there isn’t as much work to do in terms of individual friendships but there can be work to be done regarding what happens in groups.  Talk about bullying and exclusion, and how groups of people can put people down.  Talk about how each person in a group is an individual and how not to lump people all together. These are important conversations to have.

Thirteen year olds are often nicer away from home than at home, and can be quite serious and moody. Some thirteen-year-olds really withdraw and are not as interested in friends, which I think can be fine so long as they are not withdrawing into video games and social media.  Please think hard about giving your thirteen-year-old a phone!

Thirteen-year-olds are likely to get annoyed or irritable more than straight out angry. Some will walk out of a room instead of saying something mean; some will say the first mean and angry thing that comes to their mind. Under all of this, thirteen-year-olds are typically quite sensitive, both at home and in outside friendships.  Rather than seeing their friends as a “group,” now the thirteen-year-old often sees each friend as a separate human being that could or could not be part of a group and wonder if that person could be a close friend outside of the group.  Some girls will have a small group of two or three friends.  Thirteen-year-olds can be quite criticizing with one another.  Girls often share “deep secrets” while boys still hang around in a gang of four or five friends and don’t have the need to really confide anything too deep.

What you can do to help:  A thirteen-year-old girl may be mortified to talk about the move from friends to other intimate relationships romantic relationships) , but depending upon your child it can be  a good time to broach the subject of emotional intimacy in relationships; the idea of bullying can extend into the idea of bullying (abuse) in a romantic relationship, and how we should treat others and expect to be treated in a romanctic relationship.   This can be an important conversation for some children who you see having interest.

You can have conversations around how we treat those who are really our friends, how we repair relationships when  we feel criticized or made fun of, and the idea of different temperaments and personalities in the world and how different activities may be appealing to different friends.  I often talk to my children about how as adults we have friends who enjoy different things, and how I don’t always call the same friend to do the same thing. One friend may love the opera, one may not.  One friend may love to golf and want to go and one may not.  One may be the friend you can really tell all your deep things too, and others may not.  But, they can still all be our friends in some capacity,and it is up to us to choose do we only want the “deep dark secret” friend or do we also want a few friends based on the individuality of different people that is coming out in teens of this age.

Thirteen-year-olds do not need phones or social media. They will often use it, mainly the girls, to post pictures of themselves and perhaps their “deep dark secret friend” and often make other friends feel excluded.  Social media is not for children with immature frontal lobe development (which is all of them at this point! Trick statement). They just don’t tend to make good choices and think things through.  Talking to your children about social exclusion and social exclusion on social media is an important conversation.   Here is a good article about social exclusion  and this article about 9 Ways to Help Your Child Deal with Social Exclusion and Friendship Breakups is also a good one.

Talk to your thirteen-year-olds about how sometimes you feel really close to someone, but the friendship ends suddenly.  Talk about how to listen and how  to end frienships gracefully, and how to have more than one or two friends so if something does go awry and the friendship ends, your child will not feel as if they no longer have any friends at all.  Diversification can be important for some children at this age.   Friends often change over time, and even if your child has been friends with someone since they tiny, it may or may not work out to be a life-long friend.  And that’s okay.   Put energy into the new, not the old and teach your children that.

Blessings,
carrie

 

 

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

 

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