Blossoming

Blossoming — and some thoughts for parents of middle schoolers at the end….

To watch a teenager blossom is truly a remarkable thing.  As we look forward to homeschooling high school this fall, one thing that is most lovely is to see who this beautiful person before me is becoming.  Many of you have younger children, and you think you are seeing this unfolding of individuality.  In a way you are, of course, because life is always a process of becoming, and those of you have even older teenagers on the cusp of the twenties will know and will have seen more than I have…but there is something special, more intense and more beautiful in this right- now  -cusp-of-15 than there ever has been before.  I am enjoying this age.   Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart!  However, overall it is more fascinating, intimate and loving than I ever remember my own teen years being.

Teens this age can have a beautiful  balance of  being in nature and increased physical activities along with more responsibility in school, at home,  and yes, in technology.  (And yes, I am so glad we waited until this year to open up some of the avenues of technology and how it was done in the context of school and using technology as a WORK tool, not entertainment!  That has been a huge help, along with strong limits!)   The world is opening up, but wanting to be emotionally held by us and talking with us and being with us has not diminished, which is nice to see and I hope continues.  I think the greater separation will happen at the 16 year change, which to me is where I think it would more naturally come  if we just left development alone without a lot of outside influences.  We have had  amazing discussions, and the general common sense that I see makes me feel hopeful that whatever storms or mistakes come along, (even big mistakes and big storms), will be handled with grace by our child and hopefully by us.

It is often said that teenagers feel invincible and that is where they get into trouble.  I think that is true,  because I  often look at today’s teens and see such vitality, such hope, such intelligence. I know a crop of really wonderful teenagers. This group of teens has me hopeful for the future of our country and the world.

There was an article about how mothers of tweens (ages 11-12)  are the most depressed group of parents as their children go through physical and emotional changes, trying to separate by pushing boundaries, and how marital satisfaction is at its lowest for women (and how often these changes for children come in the midst of when we are changing the most in adult development as  well).  The linked article also mentions the exhaustion from driving and the children’s activities.

So, for mothers of children these ages, coming from my experience of having a younger teen….Keep talking to your children and keep them close by keeping them with the family unit.  A few close  friends for your child whose parents you really respect and can be super helpful.    If you open things slowly and naturally as your individual child (within developmental reason) shows the maturity and responsibility to handle things, it goes easier – but the older the age the  better.  Fourteen is a good age for many things to unfold.  Hold steady in the current…

Many things I see middle schoolers doing in terms of having this incredible outside the home schedule, and millions of hours with friends,  and almost unlimited technology – well, these things to me need boundaries and with boundaries they could be appropriate for high schoolers!    If your child is only 11 or 12, try to find some parents with 14-17 year olds.  It really helps put things into perspective to see how little an 11 or 12 year old actually is.

The teen years are fun.  They can have harrowing moments, but what a beautiful unfolding.

Blessings,

Carrie

Adjusting to Middle School

In the United States, many eleven and twelve year olds are off to grades sixth through eighth at a separate school from elementary school.  This is called middle school, and children in grade six and their parents have told me over and over that this is such a big adjustment for them. 

I  had dinner with four little sixth grade girls the other night who attend three separate schools in different counties.   I asked them what made middle school so different.  They responded, “Well, having a locker!” Switching classes from teacher to teacher is also quite different than being with one teacher as is the case in most elementary schools.

Forgetfulness and lack of organization is the main thing parents seem to complain about.  That, and the amount of homework their middle schooler has!  The first year (sixth grade) seems to be the absolute hardest adjustment for most families.

Some helpful suggestions include helping your child have ONE place to write down all assignment and due dates – a master list or a master calendar.  The parent also keeps a calendar at home as well with important dates and when things are due to help along.  Having a consistent time and place to do homework is very important as well – rhythm and routine is everything.  The hours that a middle schooler has to spend at home may be quite short, considering that in many areas of the United States the middle schoolers go to school later but also come home later, like 4:45 or 5 P.M., and they are likely to be tired, so efficiency with homework is key.

The other thing that parents have shared with me is that they really had to look at the amount of time they were investing in outside activities because homework really needed to come first.  The homework only increases throughout the high school years, so this evaluation is a good  yearly practice to get into.    I know high schoolers in my neighborhood who are routinely spending almost all of their day on Sunday doing homework in  order to get ready for the school week, plus doing homework every night during the week, especially if they are in AP classes or in “gifted” classes.   Forming good habits in the middle school years is important for the future!

I would love to hear from you if your child has transitioned into middle school.  What advice would you have for other parents beginning the sixth grade year to make it a smoother year?

Many blessings,
Carrie

Talking About Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Those of you who have followed this blog for some time and have read my back posts on healthy sexuality, know that I am one for just layering in conversations about things over time.  For example, I feel fortunate that over the years I have been involved in breastfeeding counseling and have always worked with families and new babies.  Because of this, we have had many conversations around this very practical life experience, seen up close and personal and discussed what new babies and new parents need.  Now that our oldest daughter is a teenager, it has been easy to layer in candid conversations about healthy sexuality as we go. And, I think in order to talk about healthy sexuality, we need to talk about ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, and about addiction and the use of alcohol and drugs. 

The conversations doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen.  There are  absolutely no guarantees in raising children into adulthood; all you can do is be open and warm and provide information and share experiences.  People often act as if homeschooling is protective; I don’t view homeschooling that way.  Homeschoolers are open to the same sorts of things that go on everywhere. Homeschoolers live life just like everyone else. 

If you have experienced alcohol or drug addiction, or grew up with that, of course you will want to think ahead regarding how much you want to share and at what age you want your children to be to share it…But it is great to start thinking about that when your children are small (and on the flip side, it is never too late to have the conversation).  You may save your child’s life and your child’s family.  Addictions break families.

Addiction issues run in my family and I have been very upfront in layering in conversations over the years about the results of addiction to alcohol and drugs.   You can read a little about the role of genetics in addiction  here.   I want my older children to know the real risks of alcohol and drug addiction  just as they should know about the other medical  and mental health issues that people in our family have experienced.  I view alcohol and drug addiction as a medical problem, not something to be hid and not talked about. 

Something that  has also really prompted my conversation with my older children  as well is the information to be found in the book, “A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults” by Jensen, MD.    One thing the author points out is that “teenagers get addicted to every substance faster than adults, and once addicted have much greater difficulty ridding themselves of the habit – and not just in their teen years but throughout the rest of their lives.” (page 117).  In other words, because teenaged brains are neuroanatomically primed for learning and are more “plastic”, they are also more prone to addictions than a mature adult.

I am sure I have mentioned this book  before on my blog because I love it, so please do look it up.   Here are a few interesting comments from that book regarding tobacco and alcohol:

Tobacco

  • Sleep deprivation in teens can lead to increased cigarette use. 
  • Cigarette smoking can “cause a variety of cognitive and behavioral problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and memory loss, and it has been associated with lower IQ in smoking teenagers.” (page 115). 
  • A single cigarette has more than four thousand chemicals and substances in it. 
  • Ninety percent of smokers begin before the age of eighteen. 
  • The more teens smoke, the more the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is affected, and poor decision-making occurs.  Some studies show that after just a few cigarettes, the adolescent brain begins to create new nicotine receptors – essentially remodeling itself so it is harder to stop smoking.

Alcohol

  • When teens drink alcohol, they tend to drink four or five drinks in one session.  The definition of binge drinking  is considered when one consumes more than four or five drinks in a two hour period.  Studies show that binge drinking typically begins around the age of thirteen and then peaks between ages eighteen to twenty-two. 
  • The teenaged brain has less GABA receptors than the adult brain and handles some of the sedative aspects of drinking better than adults – which unfortunately means greater physiological tolerance of drinking which can result in an incentive to drink more.  Because drinking is social, and because studies have shown that teens frequently underestimate the amount of alcohol those around them are drinking, the combination can be deadly.
  • There are also terrible long-term consequences to alcohol in the teenaged brain, including attention deficit,  depression, memory problems, and reduction in goal-oriented behavior.  The damage is actually worse for girls’ brains than boys’.  Alcohol abuse shrinks the size of the hippocampus and also blocks the glutamate receptors the brain needs to build new synapses.     The hippocampus is where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories.  Many teens and young adults experience blackouts when they drink; young women may be at greater risk for memory impairment from alcohol.  Researchers are not totally sure why this may be yet.  
  • Children and adolescents who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to  develop alcohol dependence later in life than those who begin drinking at the legal drinking age of twenty –one (United States).

I don’t really have the room here to go into the neuroanatomic changes caused by marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and other drugs on the adolescent brain, but I just leave this post with a reminder of the  general signs of drug abuse:  withdrawal, dramatic changes in appetite or sleeping habits, excess irritability, lack of personal hygiene, speech that is too rapid or too slow, bloodshot eyes, consistent cough, irregularities in the eye pupils or eye movements, change in group of friends. 

Keep watchful, and please talk to your children. Conversations about these topics should be natural, normal,warm, open,  and layered in over time with your children.  Always keep in mind that the biology of the brain of a teenager makes addiction much more difficult than even in adults.   These conversations – sexuality, addiction, dealing with stress, challenges such as depression and anxiety or other difficult behaviors that many times actually begin in adolescence –  deserve loving, kind parental conversations, action, boundaries, connections in the community, assistance.  These topics are really just part of being human and adolescents deserve our time and attention to be there for these challenges.  There are many things we can shy away from as parents, or  areas where we don’t feel we excel, but these topics deserve our attempt.

Blessings,
Carrie

Teens and Behavior: Is It All Just Hormones?

The short answer is no, not entirely.  I have been reading the wonderful, accessible book “The Teenaged Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt.  When we look at a teenager from a neurophysiology perspective sees more than just  hormones at work.  Some of the main points I took away from the first few chapters in this book regarding adolescent and young adult physiology follows:

Yes, hormones do rise.  The concentration of hormones does change; however the levels of hormones are not any different than the levels found in young adults.  So, if hormone levels are not any different than young adults, than what is the neurophysiologic challenge adolescents are facing that seems to make them more impulsive, more emotional than many  young adults?   (Although judging by some of the idiocy we are seeing on college campuses as of late, I guess this could be argued! LOL)

Part of the challenge is the way the brain is responding and  trying to regulate hormones  that have been previously dormant.  The brain is changing, and the  receptors in the brain and the neurotransmitters that go with these changes is profound.  Sex hormones are especially active in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain.

Adolescents have an ability to reason that is as sharp as an adult’s reasoning, which is why an adolescent can perform well on standardized testing, for example.  Memory and the ability to learn new information is at an all-time high.   However, reasoning often seems to fall short in real life, for example,  a teenager’s perception of risk often falls far short of the reality of risk.  Why is this?

Part of this stems from the maturation pattern of the brain and part of it stems from the fact that a teenager’s brain gets more of a sense of reward than an adult brain because of the increased amount of dopamine that is released. 

The brain matures from the back to the front, and the parietal lobes mature late and the  frontal lobes are the last area to mature.  This is important because the parietal lobes help regulate being able to switch between tasks and help the frontal lobes to focus .  The frontal lobes help send inhibiting messages to the reward centers of the brain – but they are not fully developed and develop last.  They also function in prospective memory – the ability to hold in your mind the intention to perform a certain action at a certain time in the future.  (This skill is almost physiologically stagnant in children ages 10-14, so please don’t just expect them to remember!)Also, the prefrontal cortex that processes negative information, doesn’t work as well in teenagers’ brains.

When we crave what the brain perceives on a physiologic level as a “reward” and we get  a dopamine rush, the teenaged brain is less equipped to deal with shutting the dopamine reward of risky behavior down because of the less developed brain physiology.  Remember, the teenaged brain is about 80 percent mature and teens are hypersensitive from the standpoint of brain physiology to dopamine rewards.  The teenaged brain also releases more dopamine in response to a potential “reward” situation so it can be particularly difficult for a teen to resist situations, especially if negative consequences are never experienced, or if negative consequences are experienced, they are less likely to learn from the situation because they do not process negative information in the same way as a mature adult.  Therefore,  they are more likely to keep repeating the behavior.   This can help explain, for example, things such as addiction in teenagers is more strongly “stuck” in an adolescent’s brain and risk and reward system.

Based upon the above, we know the adolescents consistently disregard risks associated with sexual activity, alcohol, drug use.  We can add to this mixture a society that has devalued sexual activity and the peer role in risk-taking behavior.  Social isolation for girls and a lack of extra-curricular activities for boys increased risk-taking behavior (page 113).  This has nothing to do with the physiology of the brain per se, but we know environment and physiology always mix.    Mood and emotions also can be of profound importance in decision-making moments in teens as well.   

Lots of food for thought in this book.  I highly recommend this as a great read to help you understand and parent your teenager!

Blessings,
Carrie

Talking to Children About Healthy Sexuality and Sex

One often hears the horror stories about parents trying to give “the talk” to their children, complete with mumbling, inaccurate terminology and a look of relief when their child has no questions for them and both parties can flee from the room.

In the United States, 13 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse before the age of 15.  Seventy percent have had sexual intercourse by age 19.  We live in a country founded by people who thought sex was rather evil, and we as a nation are obsessed with sexuality and sex in our media.   It is an odd paradox to say the least.  Our children are bombarded with messages about body image daily.  The freedom of the Internet and media in many families has led the average age of children to see their first pornographic act on the Internet at age 11.

These are serious facts, and the discussions about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships to counteract the messages our children receive every day can only begin with YOU by layering in talks about these subjects from an early age in a healthy, developmentally appropriate way.

First of all, like all things in parenting. these discussion have to start with YOU.  How do you feel about Continue reading

Girls On the Cusp of Puberty

 

With two girls in our house, I have spent a bit of time thinking about girls on the cusp of puberty. It also is a pretty hot topic amongst my parent friends who have girls this age, and is getting quite a bit of attention in even the mainstream media.  Here is one article from the NY Times called, Puberty Before Age  10:  A New Normal?  I believe the study of over 1200 girls mentioned in this article is this one in the medical journal “Pediatrics”.

We can argue all day long about the causation of early puberty.  Is it the estrogens, phytoestrogens, and other hormone disrupters in our food, water and environment?  Is it the levels  of different things within our own bodies at the time we got pregnant with the children who are now growing up to be girls on the cusp of puberty?  Is it something we just haven’t figured out yet?

WebMD details a few of the possible medical causes and signs of puberty and notes that the difference between early puberty and “regular” puberty is not in the signs , but in the timing.  I find it interesting that in this article the signs of puberty for girls is detailed solely as breast development and the onset of menstruation, but when I talk to parents about the signs of puberty they are worried about it can be about breast budding as well, but many times it is more about the moodiness/fluctuating emotions, talking back to parents that may be presumed due to hormonal change,  pubic hair developing or body odor or even just their daughter wanting to wear a bra.

Here is what I am finding most of my parents friends and readers to be doing: Continue reading

Tea and Conversation With Our Daughter–Part Two

 

I wrote the very first part of this post quite some time ago here.  Back then, I had a small idea about topics where I thought I might like to speak into our daughter’s life over time, just layering in things here and there.  When I wrote that post, our oldest daughter was ten and a half.  Now she is turning thirteen in a few weeks, and I can see she is  really within that wonderful beginning of the  realm of thinking;  a time of the  beginnings of  cause and effect in a thoughtful, mindful way; a time of  moving from feelings into “what-choices-do-I-make-off-of-these-feelings”; a time of snippets of moving from love into duty, with glimpses of ideals and values that I suspect will blossom so much more in the later teenaged years.

When my daughter was younger, it was all about modeling, and also the doing work of the household and garden.  Now that she is older, it is still about  all of those things, but we can start to have some thoughtful  discussions and reading.  This was the little list I started out with in that old post, and I wanted to share with you all some of the resources I have found to address these topics.  (Some of these are Christian, because I am Christian, but many of them are also easily adaptable to many belief systems). Continue reading