Parents are freaked out. Freaked out. Maybe it’s part of the season, the time changing, darker days, a new moon, lunar eclipse, or the upcoming All Souls day. But there is no mistaking it. The news has been full of upsetting stories involving 12 year olds (which I will save for last).
Kids are stressed out. Parents are stressed out. The world is bearing down unprecedented pressures, many of which play out in kids’ emotional and social worlds and are hidden from adult view.
Recently, I presented at several middle schools on the subject of raising confident teens. I call the seminar “Tweens in Balance.” The gist of the talk comes back to this: teenagers are like toddlers, just not as cute.
Tweens and teens are strange indeed. There are good reasons for it. A massive transformation is taking place inside them and this contributes to lots of fits and starts, misunderstandings and impulsive actions.
Tweens are often irrational while parents try to be rational with them. It doesn’t work well. They might just tell you to kiss off… more or less.
I spend a good amount of time on teaching some basics: what’s going on in tweens’ brains at this stage of development and how parents can make heads or tails out of their moods and behaviors. I discuss how parents can feel empowered rather than confused – by understanding what’s going in their tweens’ cognitive and emotional life. I try to help them approach the teen years with a new perspective, a sense of humor, and some basic guidelines on how to communicate with them. There are plenty of funny stories to share.
But it’s no laughing matter. While tween brains are undergoing a massive remodeling, many of the connections are just forming. Tweens have a hard time:
1) making rational and sound decisions
2) regulating emotions
3) understanding consequences
4) seeing a bigger picture
So keep things simple. Super simple.
Yes, the KISS principle or (whatever version of the phrase that suits you.)
The bottom line is that parents need to be clear and consistent and connected. That’s means making expectations really clear, not changing up rules on the fly, and staying involved and engaged with your child. Tweens are old enough to be included in decision-making and setting up new rules. The ideal times are transitions such as starting middle school, high school, college, summer months, camp, etc.
Another thing is for parents to chill a bit: Avoid making demands, constructing lists of things for them to do, and above all, thinking you are a step ahead of them. Better to take a humble but methodical approach verses a controlling and erratic one.
Part of the reason that parents of teens are freaked out is that early adolescence is clearly a vulnerable time. There are so many distractions; tweens see their problems as HUGE and irresolvable; and most of all they care about fitting in and being accepted. Any slight or misunderstanding can seem like the end of the world to them, literally.
Also, it seems that younger tweens are suffering silently or simply don’t have coping skills to manage today’s pressure-cooker world. It’s as if no one is taking the time to teach our children:
EMPATHY – COMPASSION – EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Lets take for example, the cyberbullying case in Florida regarding the suicide of the 12-year old of Rebecca Ann Sedwick in September. It is nothing less than horrifying. Here is an example of how bullying and violence prevention protocols and parent education could have made the difference between a girl’s life and death in the year leading up to the tragic event. Many adults, including parents and educators, failed these girls. The alleged bullies,12- and 14-year-old girls, are being charged with a felony. It’s very controversial given their age. Then just last week a 12 year old boy in Reno, Nevada, shot a teacher at his middle school, wounded two other students, and then killed himself. Two teen girls in a near by town outside of Boston, just miles from where my family lives, took their lives last month. It kind of seems like an epidemic of childhood violence – against oneself or another.
Can’t we do more?
It helps to understand what’s going on with this age group in modern times. A young adolescent’s cognitive and emotional development is still in development. It’s a sensitive period. Social media and the current glamorization of power and violence create extremely limited views on how to handle conflict. Our culture, parenting, and educational systems simply do not take into account the “perfect storms” that can occur during this vulnerable stage of growing up. Stern consequences are in order, but jail or juvenile detention (as is being considered in the case of poor Rebecca Ann’s bullies)?
When it comes to kids who do really bad things, remedial programs, treatment, and community service need to be in place to foster empathy and compassion, problem solving, conflict resolution and thoughtful decision-making. This may take years in the making for some children. For other young people, helping them understand that problems can be solved and that asking for help is a first step. But teens don’t know this or the information isn’t sinking in. It’s not sinking in!
Let’s be real: this means consistent prevention initiatives during middle and high school — and appropriate consequences for children and teens that become tormentors. We have to do more. The question for parents is: What can you do in your own home life to create the conditions to raise emotionally connected and compassionate children?
Consider this: Parents are the greatest influence in their children’s lives. Parents can help children navigate the challenges of growing up, build resilience in the face of a culture that reduce feelings to emoticons, rating and likes. You – yes, you – can teach them the value and gifts of every person’s life and let the know that no matter what, they are not alone when they are struggling.
Keep It Simple. Keep It Kind. Keep It Real.
So as with toddlers, we have to repeat things over and over with tweens and teens – patiently, respectfully and without judgment. Every day. Right now.