>> Monday, March 3, 2014
I am finding that raising teenagers is a very different ball game than raising younger children. With my younger kids, things are more simple. My job is to make their environment clean, good, beautiful and true. I do this by keeping out bad things and surrounding them with good. They absorb the beauty, truth and spirit. I lead by example and by setting clear expectations and boundaries. None of that is easy, of course, but it is simple.
Now that I am getting to raise teenagers, I am finding that I have to find that fine line between letting them learn for themselves and protecting them from harm.That line depends upon circumstance, the child's personality, previous circumstances, the level of trust, the evidence I see around me in how others choose to parent, and of course - the guidance of the Spirit.
I usually err on the side of freedom - I don't like to make rules unless I see there is a need for a rule (besides, of course, the basic rules and standards we live by). I have never raised a teenager before and I have such great kids that I prefer to see how they handle things before I decide if I need to step in. I am finding, though, that they are easily taken in by cultural norms (as am I) and it is so important that we work together to find true principles so we can make correct choices about what is appropriate for them.
There are several things lately that have made me question the appropriateness of some of the cultural norms around us and have make me realize that we need firm standards to fight this prevalent tide of potentially harmful normal behaviors...
I can't even imagine what a wreck I would have been if this had been around when I was younger. I was so obsessed with boys that I would have probably hung out by my computer hoping one of them would get online and I could "chat" him! Instead, I had to ride my bike by his house hoping to get a glimpse of him :-) When my kids started "chatting" their friends, it seemed like a nice way to socialize a bit and ask each other quick questions about their studies (most of their friends are in their homeschool group and are studying similar things). I started to realize there could be a problem with it, though, when I would hear the chat sounds during study hours and even in the evenings. I would walk by a computer and see three different chat boxes. Supposedly, they were all studying and chatting at the same time. Wow - impressive, right? I have a hard time staying focused on something without the constant temptations of social interactions.
This wasn't the only concern though. My kids have many friends that are the opposite gender. I found that these online chats gave them opportunities to talk to these friends, one on one, with no supervision, with a screen to take away some of the awkwardness of saying some things to someone face-to-face.
Now, don't get me wrong. I never saw them say anything inappropriate or wrong. There is a lot of pressure from friends right now to divulge "crushes" and talk about those things, and they are both very good about keeping all of that to themselves and trying to be friends to everyone. However, they do develop closer bonds to people as they have these private conversations and those bonds can be distracting from the better things they could be focused on right now (like their relationship to God and working to find and fulfil His work for them - you know - those things that will bring them the most happiness now and in the future).
So we've had to set limits on chat and google+ time. We've asked for their input and have tried to talk through what's best. For now, we are allowing it during "social" time (time when the kids are allowed to play with friends after school hours): after 4 until dinner (around 5:30). We are still working on enforcing this (it's hard to stick to your good intentions when it comes to social media!) - I check on it periodically to make sure they are staying within those limits. The last few days that this has been enforced more strictly (the rule's been around for a while, but very lax) - I have seen more focus from my kids and better study. Of course, I had to set the example by limiting my Internet use as well, but that has also been good for me and has helped me be more present.
One of the things I really enjoy about homeschooling is that my kids are able to make friends with people of the opposite gender in a good, non-awkward way. I remember when I was in school - everyone was a potential crush and people would tease and giggle about each other. Yuck. I really like that my kids can feel okay about talking to either gender in a friendly way.
Spice started going to boy-girl activities that were planned with her youth group around the age of 12. Usually, these were well planned and they had good interactions and healthy activities. Occasionally there would be one where things were not so well planned and things didn't always go as well, but we learned and moved on. Lately, her peer group is planning a lot of activities on their own... let's all go see a movie, let's get together for a birthday party, let's get together to work on Vanguard studies, let's have a game day, let's go to a dance, etc. At first, I thought it sounded great that they were planning their own activities and building relationships. I know these youth, and their parents, personally and know them to have good standards.
I came to find, though, that these activities also became a distraction. Their scholar group became much more about the social aspect of being there instead of about learning and growing and encouraging one another to find their personal missions. Their conversations started becoming less edifying and more about what activity they could next attend and who was going to be there. This draw for girls to be with boys and for boys to be with girls was too much. It has become too distracting. We recently told Spice and Bud that they could only attend activities that were planned by adults (unless it was all-boys for Bud or all-girls for Spice) until they turned 16 and were ready to go on group dates. And even the ones planned by adults would have to be done sparingly. We discussed the reasoning and the principles behind our thoughts. I am grateful for the principles we all learn during these discussions and for the standards we are figuring out together. It is hard to navigate through what is right vs what is normal.
My kids' friends sure like to hug! I come from a very huggy family and a very huggy culture (Hispanic) so I also love to give hugs. This last summer, we discussed some relationship principles with the youth with whom we homeschool, and the question came up from the girls of whether or not it was okay to hug boys. "Sure!" I said, "As long as they are just friendly hugs and not romantic ones." I have learned some things since then!
The youth started with quick little hugs as they left activities. Then they started giving each other quick little hugs after class as well, to whoever happened to be around when they left. Then they started looking for people to hug when they would leave. Then the hugs started getting tighter, then longer. Now several of them line up to give hugs before someone leaves. Goodness! One of my friends expressed it well, "I want my son to come to this scholar group and have deep, intellectual, edifying conversations with both genders and leave with a desire to learn more. But with all of the hugging after class, I think he probably goes home thinking more about that then anything." I think she's right. Another friend mentioned that a hug is something she gave a boy after having gone on a few dates with him - it was a sign of a growing relationship. I find that I am rethinking my take on hugs. A friendly "goodbye" or pat on the back ought to be enough after an activity oughtn't it?
We've been trying to figure out how to choose the music that is appropriate in our home and for their devices. For a while, Disney music and other similar pop music was being played (when Bud inherited his dad's old phone). I didn't like it very much. I need good, uplifting, spiritual music to help me be patient and loving with my many little ones. I'm also not a fan of headphones around family. We had a devotional on music and asked them to only play uplifting church music for a week. They agreed to give it a try. After a week, they agreed that music is a powerful tool and that we need to use it wisely. They did want to listen to upbeat music during work time, though, and church music is just not upbeat enough, they said. Bud was awesome and deleted some songs on his phone just because he said he knew that the principle of music being powerful was a true principle and he wanted to make sure his music was good. I still don't LOVE everything they choose during work time, but none of it is bad and I think they are learning to make wise choices so I hope to keep working on finding the right balance there on choice and protecting the home for my little ones.
Tablets and Phones
I'm trying to figure this one out! It is something they will need to learn to monitor themselves on eventually, but they are addicting and I know I need to be very cautious in helping them make sure they are using them for good and not to waste their time. We've gone back and forth on time limits with their input. Right now, devices are supposed to be off at dinner until work is done the next day (except for music during work time), but Spice often needs hers to finish something she is working on (she does a lot of writing online). I am deciding if I should just have her do her writing on paper. I don't love the thought of them having Internet access alone in their room at night. Bud likes to use his for an alarm. For now, we have taken the browser off of Bud's phone just to be safe, and have told Spice that we will see how she does with the privilege. We do have Internet filters. I know they could access bad stuff anyway if they wanted to. I'm just glad they do not want to, but I don't want to contribute to tempting them unnecessarily!
I have also been surprised by the forwardness of girls these days. Bud has had some phone calls. We discussed that it really wasn't very appropriate to be talking to girls on the phone at his age and how to handle it when they called. He completely agreed, but I know he doesn't mind the attention. I just hope he stays strong when the girls start seeming more appealing to him. Moms, please don't let your girls call boys! It is the boys that need to be seeking the girls when the time is right. It helps them become men and motivates them to prepare to fight those dragons. Girls are so easy to come by these days. I wish it wasn't so. I'm grateful for those girls who stand with dignity, even though it is hard because the "forward" girls get all the attention. Keep it up - you'll get the guys who are worth getting because they will be willing to work for you.
Of course, all of these guidelines are subject to change as the Spirit guides and as we learn and grow, but it is what feels right for us and our kids at this time. They are so good, I don't want to throw things in their way to distract them from that light and goodness. This time in life is a great time for us to discover all sorts of great principles about governing in a family, self-government and listening to the Spirit.
Thanks for reading through my ramblings. If you have teens, I'd love to hear some principles that have helped you in raising them in this topsy-turvy time. Just don't tell me that this behavior is part of being a teenager and that it is normal. I know it's normal. Normal is becoming increasingly wrong and I am looking for true principles to guide me - not social norms :-) I have seen the fruits of the behaviors above with some of my children's friends - these are good kids - but the fruits of some of these behaviors are not good. I know their potential and I see them getting distracted from it. I know they will learn from it all and that things will work out alright, but if we can find true principles to guide us - we don't need to learn from quite as many mistakes. I love the gospel and the true principles found there. I think we'll start studying the Strength of Youth Pamphlet more deeply as well. Feel free to comment with your thoughts or advice :-)