Advice to Parents of Teens

I am thankful my teenagers have been fairly easy to parent and quite enjoyable to be with.  They are obedient and kind, get great grades, enjoy participating in church, and don’t mind spending time with the family.  We’ve had our various challenges, but most have related to difficult things they are going through, rather than direct conflicts.

As I reflect on these years, a few pieces of advice come to mind for parents of children who are about to enter this phase. These thoughts are related to mistakes or troubles we went through or experiences we heard about other parents having.

  1. Be specific in laying out your family rules and expectations. I wrote a post called Explain Expectations that relates to little children. But this principle applies to teenagers as well.  It helps keep everyone on the same page if you specifically describe what you expect of your child at different ages, stages, and situations.  If you haven’t elucidated a rule, teenagers can tell themselves, “She didn’t say not to do this.”

At this age, children are getting more and more independent and making more of their own decisions, so it’s helpful every once in a while to review what choices fall under their domain and what is still expected of them as a member of the family. You might remind them, “You are expected to come to family dinner and scriptures every evening and go to church with us each week.”  Also, tell them you expect them to work hard at school, turn in their work, and get good grades.  You might think they already know this, but having it explicitly spoken out loud can make a difference in their thought process and choices.  It doesn’t have to be a big lecture, just a reminder now and then.  And be sure to compliment them when they do these things (for example, “Thanks for coming to dinner when I called you, we like having everyone here at the table”).

Another situation you want to discuss is what items you want them to pay for and what you will pay for.  If you can be clear about this it will save frustration and confusion.  But allow yourself to change your policies as needs arise. There are so many factors that go into these types of decisions (what their friends are getting or doing, how much money children can earn on their own, how much discretionary money you have, etc). This doesn’t have to be something set in stone, just a foundation for future decisions.

By having these conversations early and often you prevent problems instead of struggling with them as they come up. You’ll have more conversations as they get older and more independent: to discuss rules regarding driving and car use, expectations about letting you know where they are in the evening and when they’re coming home, etc. [For more about this, see Rules or Relationships]. In all of these areas, don’t assume they know what you want or what you are thinking.

In addition to expectations regarding family activities, school work, and finances, another area that necessitates a straightforward discussion is moral choices such as substance abuse and sex.  Hopefully as parents you will cover the basics: don’t drink, smoke or have sex in high school (as well as other specific values and standards you may have).  But there are so many more subtle behaviors that you don’t want them to do but you might not think of mentioning. Here are some suggestions:

“Don’t read a book that has any F-words or sex scenes in it.”

“Going out to do anything with a boy where it’s just the two of you is considered a date.”

“Reading about explicit sex is a form of pornography. Don’t do it.”

“If alcohol is mixed into a fruity drink it’s still alcohol. The same goes for ‘hard lemonade’ and spritzers. Don’t drink them.”

“If someone has your same class but at an earlier hour and they tell you what was on the test, that’s still cheating.”

“We expect you to attend youth night through your senior year, even if it gets boring and you’ve completed your Eagle/YW Medallion.”

“It is not okay to park your car somewhere and make out with a boy.”

“If I say not to wear something, it’s not okay to take it to school and change.”

You are probably starting to get the idea. These exact phrases might not be important or relevant to you, they are just examples. You might be surprised or amused by these examples, but good teenagers everywhere have tried these things and tried to justify them!

I’m suggesting you mention these things to your child (whichever ones apply to you and your situation) but I’m not saying this will completely prevent them from doing any of them.  All teenagers make mistakes and there are no sure-fire ways of parenting to prevent this.  But there is power in just saying them.  Don’t be overbearing or judgmental, but just say them.  For the most part, children are obedient.  If they’ve been explicitly told ‘not’ to do something, they will try not to. You want to keep communicating with your teen, finding out what they are doing and how they feel about things.  It’s good to make compromises when you can, so they feel that they have a say in how things go and some control over their lives.  And give them more control as they get older.  Remember that they are going to be completely independent one day, and prepare them (and yourself) for that.

Try to give them as much freedom as possible, but since they still live in your home, that freedom needs to be accompanied by respect. This mean communicating where they will be, what they’re doing and how they are feeling about things. It’s definitely a balancing act to know what to do for your teenagers and what to expect of them.

2. Besides continuing to remind your teens what behavior is expected, you are also trying to keep up a good relationship with them. This can be tricky because they get “prickly” around this age: hard to talk to, hard to hug, and hard to take on family activities. One strategy I’ve found for creating positive interactions is “eyes light up.” This means be enthusiastic and excited when you see them—first thing in the morning, when they come home from school, or anytime they come in the door. These “’crossroad” times start to become the primary way you see or interact with your child, which makes it even more important to have a good interaction.

This technique may seem obvious and easy when you have little children, but it gets harder as they get older.  For the most part, little kids’ eyes light up when they see you, first thing in the morning or when you come home, and you automatically mimic this and act excited to see them too.  But as children get older, this unfortunately happens less and less. Teens frown or scowl or just have a neutral expression when they see you, and again, you tend to automatically mimic this.  It’s natural to copy the other person’s mood and approach in any human interaction.

So there comes a time when you have to make a conscious effort to light up your eyes upon seeing your teenager.  It doesn’t come naturally because they are often grumpy with you.  But, it can make a big difference in the interaction because sometimes it makes them mimic you! They may hold on to their frown, but at times they will respond to you with a smile and a happy face (and those times make up for a lot of scowls!).  At least they will know you love them and are excited to see them, and that is definitely the message you want to send.  Get in the habit of greeting them with love and enthusiasm.  It helps you feel more positive about your teenager and it will make a difference in how they respond to you.

3. Because children of this age are prickly, it’s easy for parents to start to pull away and interact with them less. When I saw this happening in myself I made a goal to try to do these three things every day: hug, compliment, and ask a question. Questions can include what happened in history today? How is so-and-so doing? How did your test go? How are you feeling about ___?  Once again, when your kids are little you can’t imagine not doing these things, but there will come a time when these behaviors don’t come as naturally.  Teenagers are compared to porcupines for good reason!  You can get “pricked” when you try to ask questions or give a hug, and that makes you nervous to try again; you start to become afraid of future rejections.  It’s natural and common to start talking and interacting less.  There are times when I feel like the only reason my teens talk to me is to ask me for something (money or a ride).  When I decided to attempt these three things every day (give a hug, give a compliment, and ask a question) I found that I could stay more in the habit of interacting with my girls.  These small conversations sometimes lead to larger ones. And again, at least your child knows you care and are trying.

4. My last piece of advice is simple and straightforward. Have your teen make Sunday dinner every week for his/her senior year. By doing this for a year your teen will learn how to make many different meals and have a great foundation for preparing food for herself in the future. Your teen might resist at first, saying she’s too busy, too tired or doesn’t like to cook. But as the year goes on you will be amazed at how well she develops this important skill.  Fostering these abilities will benefit teens their entire lives. They will feel more confident and secure as they begin to live on their own and be more independent.

 

Farewell. . . for Now

In the next few weeks I will be transitioning this blog into more of a website format.  It will have a static landing page with links to different topics, and a list of all the blog posts.  I always knew this blog was going to be more like a book (that ends) than a magazine (that has continuing editions).  I had a finite number of things I wanted to write, topics I’d been thinking about for years, and I didn’t plan on posting forever. I have come to the end of those ideas.  I may post more in the future if I think of other topics or as my children get older and I have more knowledge about teen years, transitioning to adult children, etc.

Hopefully you will continue to use and refer to this blog even though there are not new posts.  You can use it as a reference for future problems.  When you are struggling, review the posts and try to apply the general principles to that specific problem.  There are always areas for improvement as parents, and reviewing the content can help remind you of skills to work on.  The Basic Principles page has links to the main parenting ideas.  It’s always good to go back to the basics!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or ideas. Click on the Comment button or email me at betterwayparenting@yahoo.com

If you want another blog with continual posts, check out www.ahaparenting.com/blog.  I have read some of her posts, and her philosophies and advice are right in line with mine.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Power of Family History

The idea that telling your children about their family history is important could have been included in the Family Unity post.  But I felt it was so vital I wanted it to have a post all its own.  I always believed that telling children stories about your life, as their parent, would help them see you as a real person, someone who made mistakes and learned from them, and this would in turn help you have a closer relationship now and in the future.  However, I did not realize the great significance of telling these stories and those of extended relatives and ancestors, until I read a book review of The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler.

One of Feiler’s main “secrets” is to tell your children the story of their family.  Feiler refers to research studies showing that children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives – both their ups and their downs – have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Knowing more about family history turned out to be the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being!

In this New York Times article he describes why and how he started trying to find the secrets to happy families, and how he was surprised at the large and lasting effect telling children their family stories had.  He discovered research from Dr. Marshall Duke who, with his colleague, developed a scale called “Do You Know?”  It asked children if they knew where their grandparents grew up, where their parents went to high school and how they met, about an illness or other tragedy in their family, and many other such questions.  The researchers were astounded to discover “that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

It makes sense that knowing these stories helps children feel a part of something bigger than themselves and gives them something to hold on to in times of difficulty.  Children know that people in general crossed the Atlantic and came to America for freedom (at various stages in history), but to know that your ancestor specifically was one of them – to know a detailed story about their difficulties on the trip and getting settled once they were here – can be very impactful.  It gives children a special connection with someone who has overcome great odds.  They come to believe that they have the same strength – it is in their blood.  That is just one example of a story you might tell. Every family and every person has had triumphs and difficulties.  It is so important to share these with your children.

Some parents might want to emphasize the successes, but learning about the struggles is what really sticks with children.  The “overcoming obstacles” stories from your ancestors teach them that when challenges come, if we keep on working, things do get better eventually.  It is not abstract knowledge; it is just not a lesson you sit down and present to your children about how hard work pays off. It is a first-person account, a family story of someone they are related to, and the power of that cannot be underestimated. It is huge!  Additionally, telling your children these stories will draw you closer together because they are your shared history.  They link you to each other as well as to your ancestors.

Tell your children about your life, about their birth and life, and especially about the lives of their grandparents and ancestors.  This might require some research on your part.  Reach out to relatives and ask them to tell you (or your child) about their lives. You can also ask those relatives how you can get more information about your ancestors.  Build an intergenerational story that shows your children they are part of something large and meaningful.  Be sure to include the happy moments and the difficult ones; you will give your children the skills and the confidence they need to overcome their current or future hardships.

Family Unity

Much of what is in this post will probably not be new to you.  But hopefully it will be a good reminder of how to create positive feelings and memories in your families.  Those positive experiences can strengthen you and your children as you go through the more difficult times.  Family unity is so important because everyone wants to be a part of something.  If children don’t feel their families are something special and important to be a part of, they will find other groups where they feel included and wanted.  Family unity can come from many different sources, and it’s okay if your family doesn’t do all of these things listed below.  I’m going to talk about traditions, family pride, and family culture as ways to build family unity.

Family Traditions

Most people have family traditions and know of their importance.  It means a lot to children to do the same thing each year at certain holidays or seasons.  Sometimes you will continue the traditions you or your spouse had growing up, and sometimes you will change them to fit your family’s needs.  It’s important to be deliberate (as opposed to sporadic) about these traditions – write them down and make a note to do them every year.  It doesn’t matter so much what you do or how many traditions you have, as long as you have something and do it consistently. Children will start to notice the traditions and look forward to them.

One yearly tradition we have enjoyed is having “special time” with each child.  Once a year we plan a one-on-one time between each parent and child (so 8 combinations in all) where the child can choose what to do. We used to do this more often, but as schedules got busier we felt like once a year was the right balance. It almost always involves a meal or a treat, and the other activities have ranged from visiting the nature center, going bowling, going for a bike ride, or going to the mall.  It is a designated time to talk individually with that child, build the relationship, show her how important she is, and give her an opportunity to talk about her life.  Hopefully we have good communication with our children throughout the year and keep up on what is going on with them, but knowing we have this once a year “check-in” is important to both us as parents and to the children.  It has been very rewarding and sometimes very meaningful.  It takes some advanced scheduling and prioritizing, but that demonstrates to the children that they are significant to us.  These same activities (going for a treat or on a bike ride) come up spontaneously throughout the year, but there is something powerful about a scheduled event for the child to look forward to.

Picking raspberries on our Special Time
Picking raspberries on our Special Time

IMG_1270

Another annual tradition that has been worthwhile to us is reviewing our Family Timeline.  We do this once a year at one of our weekly family meetings, around the time of our wedding anniversary.   We put a long line of masking tape across the carpet and set papers with different years at intervals.  We place pictures, scrapbook pages, and other mementos along the tape to designate the important events in our family: our wedding (the creation of our family), graduations, moves, births and baptisms of children, anything that has importance.  We talk about these events and what they meant to us.  My husband and I tell stories about how we met and about our wedding day.  It is so fun to share these things with our children and teach them about the creation and building of our wonderful family.  We usually end up looking through all the scrapbooks, talking, laughing, and reminiscing.

It is also beneficial to have a tradition of creating and reviewing family and individual goals.  This could be done at the beginning of the calendar year or the school year.  Goals help your family define where they are and where they want to go.  We all know the importance of articulating our goals and setting a vision for what we want to do and achieve in life.  Family and individual goals can be long term (all family members will go to college), and these can be reviewed every year.  Short term goals can be extrapolated from the long term goals (get 3.8 GPA, for example), and other short term goals can be identified, also (such as, learn to ski).

In addition to annual family traditions, there are also weekly and daily family traditions.  Going to church, having a family meeting, or going for a Saturday bike ride can be some of your weekly family traditions.  Daily traditions might include regular family dinner; a routine for waking up, saying goodbye, or going to bed; or family prayer.  Being purposeful about these smaller, more frequent traditions means making them a priority and making them a meaningful part of your family.  All these activities will provide positive interactions between you and your children and become the fabric of who your family is.

Family Pride

The next category of family unity is family pride or family identity.  This involves creating an individualized spirit for your family and getting your children excited to be a part of it.  One idea to build family pride is to have a family motto.  The family motto and other elements of family identity can be decided upon and reinforced in your Family Meetings.  Because we have four daughters, our family motto is, “Sisters forever, friends for life.”  It reminds us of our uniqueness in having all girls, and how we can and will be friends for our lifetime and a family forever.  I have the girls say it every morning as we have hugs and prayers before going out the door to school.  Some families also create a family flag, song, cheer, or mission statement, depending on the personalities and desires of the family members.  Corporations know the importance of mission statements and mottos to give all those involved with the company a sense of pride and togetherness, as well as a vision for where they are going and what their goals are.

Beyond our main family motto we also have 6 family values.  We created these based on our family interests and priorities and things we hoped our family would become.  Some of them are: Hoelzers love to learn! Hoelzers are hilarious! Hoelzers are happy!  These add to our family identity and help our children feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  They have responsibilities to this family and they receive benefits from being a part of it.  I can refer to these values in various circumstances for motivation and positive reminders.  For example, if a child doesn’t want to go to school I can say, “Hoelzers love to learn! The best place to learn new things is at school.”

Family Culture

The last method for building family unity that I want to talk about is creating your family culture.  You create a family culture by doing your regular, everyday things, whether you are aware of it or not!  What types of foods you eat, what songs you sing, what topics you discuss at dinner, these all combine to make up who you are as a family.  There are many ways to build a positive family culture, if you will be aware of and take advantage of the opportunities.  You can sing songs with your children while doing dishes, doing hair, in the car, or brushing teeth.  Children love music and singing teaches them a lot about speech patterns and sentence structure, as well as creates positive feelings.  I like to sing “positive message” songs to young children, such as “When We’re Helping, We’re Happy.”  Sometimes I make up words to familiar tunes to teach or reinforce a positive behavior.

You can learn new songs or poems as a family while traveling.  You can continuously be looking for ways to teach children new things or tell them stories.  I’m not very good at making up stories, so I often resort to books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen.  It’s a fun and creative challenge to take the story down to their developmental level! It’s also important to tell them stories about yourself and other family members.  See more about this in an upcoming post titled the Power of Family History.

Part of the family culture is also the home environment.  Family pictures and other pictures or important quotes on the wall and around the house can be silent teachers.  You don’t have to say, “Our family is important” because the presence of the pictures will say it for you.  The same goes for displaying children’s artwork or family history mementos.  Walk through your house and ask yourself, What message is this room giving my children?  What can they learn from just looking around?  This is the environment your children will be in for many hours of most days of their lives.  Make sure what they see around them is giving them messages you want them to receive.

Doing all these things to create family unity shows your children they are important to you and that your family matters.  Children feel safe and secure knowing that they are a part of something important and fun and that traditions and activities will be the same week to week, year to year.

The Science of Teen Rebellion

This post is based on a chapter of the book Nurture Shock.  I summarized some of the other fascinating topics in this book here, but this chapter deserved a post of its own.  I learned so much about teenagers from this chapter and was surprised and comforted by much of the information.  The following are five confusing or stereotypical elements of the teen years that the book addressed.  Read Nurture Shock to find out more about the various studies I reference here.

  1. Maybe I shouldn’t set rules because teens are wired to defy them.

It is helpful to know that objection to parental authority peaks around age 14-15.  All that attitude you’re getting from your teen at this time is normal and temporary!  Many parents get nervous when they hit this period of heightened conflict with their teen.  It is hard to constantly get resistance and ridicule from your children, especially when they were once sweet and obedient.  Some parents think the best way to get through this time is to be more permissive and not set outright rules.  Their goal is to be a loving friend more than an authority figure.  They hope this will avoid tension in the relationship. But these teens tend to get in trouble because even though the parents are accepting and loving no matter what they do, the teens see the lack of expectations as a sign their parents don’t actually care – that their parents don’t really want the job of being in charge.

Successful parents set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and explain why the rules are there.  They expect the child to obey the rules, but they are flexible when circumstances come up (See Rules or Relationship?).  Over life’s other spheres, however, they allow and support autonomy, giving teens freedom to make their own decisions.  Studies show that parents who are most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have more conversations with kids.  It takes time and a lot of conversations to set and enforce rules. These parents speak and listen to their teens in a mature and respectful way, but still consistently implement limits.  Interestingly, the teens of these types of parents lie the least.

  1. Why do teens take crazy risks?

Teen brains are neurochemically different from adult brains.  They don’t get pleasure out of doing something mildly or moderately rewarding.  They seek thrills and extreme excitement because that’s what lights up their brain reward centers.  That dramatically increased pleasure response dampens their ability to assess risk and foresee consequences of their actions.  In abstract (in a discussion or on paper), teens can evaluate risks just like adults, but in the moment the rational part of the brain gets overridden by the reward center.  Also, teens try to prove they can handle things themselves, that they are grown-up and mature.  This is why they don’t seek out help from adults.  Luckily, as they become adults and their brains mature and develop, they acquire the same risk assessment abilities as anyone else.  Knowing this helps parents remember it’s not only their teen who doesn’t think things through or acts irrationally.  It’s just how teens are!  Parents still need to set limits and communicate with teens about how these actions will affect them, but they don’t need to overreact or get angry at the child for being that way.  Many times parents need to let their teens make decisions themselves and take these risks, to allow the teen to learn and grow from their mistakes.

  1. Why do teens care so much what others think?

Teens are also more highly attuned (again, neurochemically) to the opinions of their peers.  In one research study, the possibility of having their preferences displayed to an imaginary online audience vibrantly lit up the regions of the brain that signal distress and danger.  Yet when asked whether other scary situations were a “good idea” or “bad idea” the teens took longer to answer than adults and weren’t automatically stressed or scared.  Parents need to remember this when their teen is overly anxious about who they will see or what people will think.  It is not helpful for parents to say things like, “Don’t worry about that!” or “You’re being silly!”  It is a legitimate concern for the teen and parents need to empathize and listen respectfully.

  1. Teens don’t care what their parents think.

Lying to and arguing with parents are some of the most typical and most difficult teen behavior.  But, if you flip them on their side you will see that they are actually signs of respect and attempts at obedience.  Studies show that most teens lie to protect their relationship with their parents, not to avoid punishment.  They don’t want their parents disappointed in them.  This implies that they care what their parents think and want their parents to approve of them.  This is not to say parents should condone lying, but simply see it from a different angle.  Realizing that it’s normal and that teens want their approval, parents can discuss the situation with their teens calmly, saying things like, “I’m upset that you didn’t tell me the truth.”  “We need to be truthful with each other to have a respectful relationship.” And, “It’s okay for you to say you don’t want to talk about something, but it’s not okay to lie to me about it.” This last one is especially important.  Teens need a way “out” if they don’t want to talk about something.  Teenagers do not want to tell their parents everything.  That is hard for parents, but remember that it is normal (probably how you were as a teen!).  Parents have to be okay with not talking about it – even letting it go.

  1. Why does my teen argue with me so much?

Another comforting fact from recent studies: Moderate conflict with parents during adolescence is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.  Surprisingly, studies show that in families with less deception from teens there is actually more arguing and complaining!  The way to reframe arguing is to realize that arguing is honesty.  Looked at this way, you can see that teens are fighting with their parents over the rules – not over the authority of the parents to set rules.  This type of arguing is actually a sign of respect. It’s not deceptive, and the underlying premise is a belief that parents have the right to make rules.  If they didn’t believe that, teenagers could say what parents want to hear and still do what they want to do.

Because parents don’t realize this, arguing with their teens causes them great anxiety.  Parents are more likely to hold on to the frustration after a negative interaction than teens.  Teens move on and don’t read as much into the argument, but parents dwell on it in their minds, sulking and catastrophizing (He’s always like this! We’re never going to have a good relationship!).  Reframing the arguing can really help parents stay calm.

Most teens view arguing as productive, not destructive.  They view it as a way to see their parents in a new perspective, a way for them to feel heard, and a way to find some common ground or compromise.  Parents should not say, “I don’t want to hear it!” “This is the way it is.” “Don’t argue with me!” or other such statements. These statements shut the communication down rather than open it up.

I  know this is true for my children.  They really need to tell their side and feel like their experience is validated.  This takes time and sometimes patience, but after I listen to them, they are calmer, and it is easier to find a solution.    Even the tiniest concessions make teens feel satisfied with the resolution.  This is not to say parents are pushovers; they are just respectful – listening and taking into consideration the child’s argument. They are hardly children anymore!  These teenagers will be adults soon and we should treat them like their opinions matter as much as an adult’s (almost) and help them get in the habit of expressing their feelings, using their words to get what they want, and staying calm and kind in a discussion.   We teach them how to do this by explanation and by our example.

 

5 Tips for Parenting in the Electronics Age

Parenting in the age of electronic devices is new and uncharted territory for all of us.  There are many articles and posts with great suggestions and solutions, but I wanted to add my voice to that conversation and share some lessons I’ve learned in the past few years.

When our daughters were 16 and 14 they saved their money and paid for half the cost of their iPad Minis.  It was toward the beginning of teenagers (or anyone) having these types of devices, and I was quite naive as to what could go wrong or what parameters I should set up.  It was very difficult to go back and take away electronic privileges that they had become accustomed to.  If I could do it again, I would set up the following standards and constraints from the very beginning.

  1. Establish dual ownership. Even though the device might be “theirs” you need to make it clear that it is also yours, in the sense that you can take it when you deem necessary, can look at it when you want, can make restrictions on its use, and can monitor the way they use it. This sounds simple, but when our girls got their devices we didn’t have such conversations or expectations. When we realized we needed access to the devices for all the above reasons, they were very resistant and protective.  Setting up this dual ownership doesn’t have to be done in a harsh or demeaning way.  It can be part of the conversation about the benefits and risks of using devices, and the need for continual parental supervision until they are adults.  If this expectation is set up from the beginning, teens might balk at first, but they will get used to it.
  2. Have “break” times. We decided to have an hour a week (our was Sundays 6:00-7:00) where the girls hand over their devices to us.  This gives them a break and gives us time to look through their phone and see what they’ve been up to.  I look through their social media accounts to see who they are following and what kind of content is posted.  I look through their browser (safari) pages and check the history.  You can learn a lot about what your child is interested in or curious about by doing this!  Sometimes I read their texts or notes or reminders.  It feels slightly invasive but there could be something going on that is important for you to know about. At first they weren’t crazy about handing over their devices, but now they are used to it, and we can see the immense benefits.  They engage with the family more and find other ways to entertain themselves.  Sometimes they don’t even ask for them at 7:00 because they are enjoying themselves so much.  If a device is available it is almost always the easiest and most fun thing to do.  A mandatory break is necessary for them to realize the pull the device has on them.  Once we started this break time, we wished we’d done it years ago, and we wished we’d done it more often.  Maybe twice a week would be even better.  It really helps to pull them out of the constantly-checking-updates mode and see the real world for a while.  When my children were young I knew they needed and craved boundaries, but I forgot to apply this same parenting philosophy to my teenagers.
  3. Sequester devices when guests come over. I had an epiphany about this during our family reunion this summer. The girls were excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles, but couldn’t seem to break away from their devices.  Even when they were interested in the conversation, they had their phones right by them to check their feeds continually.  I realized I should have set up a standard long ago that when visiting with family or family friends, devices are not allowed.  This would get them in the habit of focusing on the people and forgetting about the devices and would be especially useful at holidays and family gatherings.  Again, when the devices are around they are too tempting (even for adults!).  (I wouldn’t necessarily make this rule for when their friends come over – devices are a big part of friendships these days.)
  4. Consider each app they use or buy. Someone pointed out to me that you can take the safari web-browsing app right an Apple device. This would be a great idea for a young child who wants a device but you don’t want to give them access to everything on the internet.  You can set your account up such that you have to approve each app your child purchases.  This way you will know what is on his phone.  Everyone will have their own decisions and reasons for which app is appropriate for their child and which isn’t, but it’s much easier to prohibit an app before download it and acquire 50 friends or followers.
  5. Keep an eye on whom and how many they are following on social media. This one took me really by surprise. I had very strong feelings about the evils of fashion magazines (air brushing, body image distortion, adult content, etc.), especially for daughters, but one day I found out that my daughter was following Vogue on Instagram, seeing and learning some inappropriate things.  I realized that Instagram can be like an endless variety of magazines – and I needed to be aware of which ones my daughter was subscribing to.  There are multiple problems that can result from whom and how many they follow on social media.  The first is obviously the content: you want to know and approve of what your children are seeing and experiencing (Vogue was NOT on the approved content list!).  The second is the frequency some groups post.  For instance, my older daughter is interested in human rights, but some groups she followed post 3-4 times a day, overwhelming her with propaganda and sometimes disturbing images.  A third problem is the total number of posts in their feed.  The more people they follow, the longer it takes them to “keep up” with everyone.  They have to constantly check what’s new and spend a considerable amount of time reading what has been posted since they last checked.  I realized that if I put a limit on how many they can follow, I would be limiting the volume of information coming through their feed (again, easier done from the beginning than asking them to pare down).

If I’d set up these parameters early on we could have avoided some frustrations and problems with my girls’ device use.  Hopefully some parents can learn from my mistakes!

Note: for a more in depth look at handling teens and their electronics use see Electronics. Also, here is an example of a electronics contract between parents and teens (on Saren Eyre Loosli’s blog), which can be used as an actual contract or to facilitate a conversation and help you remember all the important points you want to cover!

I’m Bored!

This is just a quick idea for helping children find ways to entertain themselves.  When their friends are all busy and nothing sounds fun, it’s hard to get kids engaged in an activity.   For times like these I created an “I’m Bored” list and taped it inside the cupboard door.  The list is based on my children’s current interests and toys.  I try to update it every few months to reflect their recent birthday or Christmas presents and/or the season (summer/winter).  When my children complain of being bored I refer them to the list for ideas.  I encourage them to pick one and try it for at least fifteen minutes.  Often their choice from the I’m Bored list leads them to another idea and then another, and their boredom problems are gone!  I’ve heard of other moms who cut up the ideas on the list and put them in a jar. This would be fun too, but I prefer a list that the children can look over and see which idea jumps out at them.

I will include my list, but of course yours will be tailored for your children’s needs and interests.  Take a moment to write your own I’m Bored! list, and it will save you time in the future.

  • Play Legos
  • Play Yahtzee!
  • Take pictures with your camera
  • Do make up
  • Put on a dance performance
  • Listen to music
  • Play Trivial Pursuit
  • Play Electronic Battleship
  • Play Taboo
  • Paint a picture
  • Have a tea party
  • Look at your white binders (filled with crafts they’ve completed at school and home)
  • Play American Girl (new outfits!)
  • Draw on your white board
  • Play Lite brite
  • Go on Starfall
  • Go on Tumblebooks
  • Call a friend
  • Play house
  • Color
  • Play School
  • Do crafts
  • Make a treat
  • Play dress up
  • Play in the princess tent
  • Play a card game (UNO, Old Maid, Go Fish, trash can, Mexican poker)
  • Read a book
  • Sew with your sewing kit