Thriving Tweens and Teens
Taking On The Tween/Teen Parenting Traps
It seems parents fall into one of a few categories, or stages. There are parents who love the baby stage—who just can’t get enough of those squishy cheeks and rolls of sweet baby-smelling skin. Then there are the parents who can’t wait until this stage is over, when their child can start talking and wiping his own tush. My sister was one of the latter—she couldn’t wait to escape her son’s colicky baby years. Me? I’m a total baby stager. The toddler years weren’t bad, either, but the tween stage? Yeah, I could go without a year or two of those.
Commiserating with friends is therapeutic and all, but I need some down and dirty strategies to get through this tweenage/teenage minefield
Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m floundering in tween land. Maybe it’s because I don’t know where to turn, other than to my friends who are, frankly, floundering, too. It seems like in the baby years, there’s info galore about how to deal with breastfeeding, diaper rash, the terrible twos (and threes and fours) and all manners, or “what to expect,” but once your kid masters potty training, you’re expected to have mastered it all. It’s almost like the Motherlode of info has dried up. But I think, more likely, we just don’t have the time or energy to look for it anymore!
Commiserating with friends is therapeutic and all, but I need some down and dirty strategies to get through this tweenage/teenage minefield. So I’ve done a little digging, turning to some of my favorite experts for advice on maneuvering some of the trickiest parenting traps. Here are a few of the survival tips …
Screen time is a never-ending battle in our house. Even when we establish time limits, it seems we can never find an effective, and consistent, way to enforce them. Sara DeWitt, head of PBS KIDS Digital, has spent 18 years working with kids and media. She says parents who worry about how much time their kids are spending on screens—and not being social, not getting enough fresh air, and not learning—can and should set limits for their kids. But another alternative is to just show up. She writes on PBS Parents, “Sit down next to your child. Ask a couple questions about what they’re doing or watching. Research shows us that watching, playing, and engaging with our children through educational media helps them learn.”
But you can’t even find time to watch your own favorite series, much less your kids. I get it. And what about the smartphone? How are you supposed to “share” that? Children and media researcher Eric Rasmussen has some advice: “Smartphones aren’t the problem. Just like food isn’t a problem, it’s what we allow our kids to eat that becomes problematic. In our home, our teenagers (once they turn 13) can buy their own smartphone, but we do not allow Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media besides Facebook. We have access to their texts and their accounts. All phones stay in the living room at night. Because of the nature of media, our kids are going to see things in the media that make us want to throw up, but because we started media parenting early, our hope is that they’re empowered to deal with the bad, while enjoying the good, when they encounter it in the media.”
There are a variety of parental control apps to choose from—we use Net Nanny to monitor our kids Android devices—but Microsoft and most Apple devices also offer built-in family monitoring systems.
Smart phones aren’t the problem. Just like food isn’t a problem, it’s what we allow our kids to eat that becomes problematic.
Internet/Social Media Content
Besides wanting to throw up, as Rasmussen puts it, nothing puts fear in the mind of a parent quite like the thought of them coming upon, um, questionable Internet material. Not to mention the difficult social and emotional repercussions of social media. But even the most diligent parent can’t control what a child takes in when he’s outside the home. Rasmussen adds that “media parenting is like providing swimming lessons for our kids. It is smart parenting to help our kids become media literate when they’re young. We should teach them the dangers of media content, of social media, of texting, and of loss of connection with others that can come as a result of excessive smartphone use. We need to have these conversations early and often.”
To allowance, or not to allowance … that seems to be the big question for many of us parents of tweens. Financial expert Suze Orman doesn’t believe in an “allowance,” per se, for kids. She says they should be able to work for their money, earning more as they grow older and take on more responsibilities. This could go beyond the usual chores (like making the bed and picking up clothes), such as washing the car, vacuuming, folding laundry, etc. Orman believes kids should be able to have TOTAL control of 50% of what they earn, should save 40% of the money, and should be encouraged to donate 10% to charity.
Our kids have designated boxes for “Spend,” “Save” and “Donate” that they picked out and decorated themselves. They also got to pick their favorite charity for donating. It takes a while, but eventually, they save up a handful of crumpled cash to walk into the local pet shelter (fun for everyone!).
Orman says parents should also think about how they respond to money issues themselves. “It’s very important that you understand that kids are watching what you do and what you say even when you don’t know they are,” she told TODAY.com. “Unconsciously, we may be shaping our kids to fear money.”
Even the most diligent parent can’t control what a child takes in when he’s outside the home
Yes, that talk. Sadly, or not sadly, depending on how you look at it, we can’t count on our kids’ schools to provide them with everything they need to know about sex. So it’s up to us. Super.
Sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman says one of the biggest mistakes parents make when talking to their kids is they pretend that sex is bad, dirty, or dangerous. “Sex is fun,” notes Berman, “and your kids KNOW this from a culture saturated with sexual messaging, from cheeseburger commercials to pop songs on the radio.” So, if you are honest up front about how sex can be nice with the right person at the right time, then you can build trust so you can talk to your kids about the importance of waiting (abstinence) or practicing safe sex, whatever your values may be. “Honesty engenders honesty,” Berman adds. “I believe that a huge part of the reason why teens are so resistant to talking to their parents is because they don’t trust their parents to be “real” with them, to give them truthful information, and advice that comes from a place of love rather than a place of fear and shame.”
Berman says in her book “Talking to Your Kids About Sex” (with a LOT of great tips to get you through every graphic detail), “your children absolutely need and desire your guidance. Yes, they may squirm or roll their eyes or harrumph into their hair, but trust me, they are listening. Your words hold weight. Your values reign supreme in their minds.”
Oh, and check out The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It, and my new favorite blog Amy Lang’s Birds & Bees & Kids.
Phew! I feel better (I think). The tween/teen stage may not be as sweet and simple as the baby stage, but knowing we’ve got some back-up out there is helpful. Now that I think about it, even the hardest day beats 4 a.m. feedings, any day.