Parenting Tweens and Teens
Parenting Tweens and Teens
This post is about parenting tweens and teens in this ever-so-stressful and nauseatingly-narcissistic world. Parents teeter-totter on the brink of insanity while constantly questioning themselves if they are doing too much…or doing too little…or doing it right…or doing it wrong. Things are different from when we were teenagers and things will be different when our kids have teenagers; which is hopefully a long long time from now.
I’m not sure who coined the phrase “Helicopter Parents” but I would like to congratulate them for perpetuating parental doubt and anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to keep yourself in check to make sure you’re not “smothering” your child, but I love that now it’s got a fancier, more derogatory label. Yay! I have found it’s a fine line between smothering and being disconnected, especially with teenagers.
Call me whatever you want to call me, but you won’t be calling me to tell me my child has gotten herself into a heap of trouble with school or the police, or a boy (she’s gay anyway so), or drugs, or alcohol, etc. Oops, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!
My daughter and I have a very open relationship and even though I’m not dumb enough to think she tells me everything, I trust her to make good choices – with my guidance, of course. I’m her mom and my job is to guide her. No one has called me a “helicopter parent” to my face but if people think I’m too “hovering” well, just like anything else, they are entitled to their opinion. You be you and I’ll be me.
Parents, if you need permission, here it is: Raise your kids however you feel is best for your child’s development, safety, and growth; while remaining true to your core values. Oh and you don’t have to do it like your parents did. Go ahead, ask your parents for advice, but then do what you feel is best. This is your life, these are your child(ren), and we are parenting during more complicated times so toss out “the rule book”…oh wait, there is no rule book! Case and point.
Since you’re reading this post, you obviously care enough about your kids to back yourself with knowledge and for that I commend you. In my opinion you are doing what you should be doing; seeking advice, analyzing data, and comparing results.
Helpful Hint: Our kids think we’re stupid. Normally I don’t like when someone thinks I’m stupid. In this case, it’s a good thing. If our kids think we’re stupid, they’ll cut corners. If they cut corners, they’re more apt make mistakes and get caught.
In all honesty though, I trust my daughter. Does she lie about things? Yes. Sometimes I call her on it and sometimes I let her get away with it. Just depends on the situation and the need to confirm that I am still an idiot in her mind.
I also let her negotiate for things that she wants. This cuts down on the need to lie if she feels she has choices. I want her to fight for what she wants by creating a “win-win” for both of us.
Learning to negotiate will help her be successful in life so some of the “rules” below are open for discussion. If she can come up with a reasonable argument as to why something should change, then I’m open to modifying it.
It’s important to have a starting-off point to keep things consistent and fairly predictable, so she understands her boundaries. Here are our rules.
I'm the type of parent that checks my daughter’s phone on a regular basis and she is well aware of it. It's for her safety and for my peace of mind. I scan her text conversations. This is how I stay updated on her friends and what they’re talking about.
She is on Twitter and Instagram and I make sure her account is private so she has to approve followers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t check who she’s approved because I’ve had to talk to her about a few of the people she’s approved, and then had to delete them.
I also have the phone set up to notify me when she wants to download anything from the iTunes store and I have to approve it.
Now you may be thinking “Geez that’s a huge invasion of her privacy”. Well, I’m thinking that her having an expensive smart phone is a privilege and a huge responsibility. At her fingertips she has access to some really great things and some really harmful things and it’s my job as her parent to monitor and limit her access. And until she is able to afford paying for a phone on her own, she should consider herself lucky to be able to use the one she has.
Furthermore, at any point in time she can pick up my phone and peruse my conversations, apps, emails, etc. because I have nothing to hide.
My daughter is 16 and I've been using the Find My iPhone app to track her for the last three years. It’s the best thing ever for several reasons. It has come in handy when she coming home late from a marching band competition. I can see where she’s at and decide when to leave the house so neither of us are sitting there waiting for the other. It’s really helpful in many “other” situations because the GPS tracking system leads me right to her location in case of emergencies. If for some reason she doesn’t answer a text or call (within a reasonable timeframe), I can click the alert and her phone will start making a loud sound which prompts her to text or call me back.
She is well-aware I track her whereabouts. Whether she's okay with it or not, you’ll have to ask her. Yes, she can easily manipulate any situation to her benefit because if there is anything I’ve learned from being the parent, it’s that they are smart. That’s why I feel the need to always stay three steps ahead of her. Sometimes I’m able to and sometimes I’m not because I also have a life, and trying to stay three steps ahead of your child is incredibly time consuming.
And a final rule, she puts her phone on airplane mode at 9:00pm every night and her phone stays outside of her room while she’s sleeping.
If she is going over to a friend’s house for a party, one of the parents needs to be home. Her friend’s 18 year old brother is not a replacement for a parent. I always check with the parents to verify the details for the evening making sure one of them will be home and will be staying home during the party. One time a friend had a birthday party that started at 3:00pm but the parent wasn’t sure when he was getting home from work so I asked him to text me when he got home. He didn’t get home until 7:30pm so, that’s when I dropped off my daughter.
If she is going to a person’s house that I’ve never met before, I always meet the parents. I tell Claire to warn her friend, to warn the parents that I’m coming in to meet them. I walk in, introduce myself, engage in conversation, take a look around, see who else is living there, etc. I usually start with “Hi, I’m Jackie and I just wanted to meet you in person so I can identify you in a line-up”. I’m just kidding I never say that.
Hey, I look at it this way; if something were to happen to my daughter (God forbid), I don’t want to be the stupid parent admitting on the 5:00 news, “I never met the parents and I don’t even know their names”. Was I doing my job of keeping my child safe if I just drop her off at the door of a house I’ve never been to before, with people I couldn’t identify if my daughter’s life depended on it? What if she was walking into a meth house? What if these people are human-traffickers?
Apparently I watch too much Dateline and 20/20.
Claire wasn’t allowed to sleepover anyone’s house that wasn’t a family member until she was 10 years old. If she is invited to a sleepover, and I walk in and if I don’t feel comfortable with the situation, she will not be spending the night. Claire knows this and understands that spending the night is never a guarantee.
When Claire was 12, her friend Maggie invited her to a sleepover. The party started at 5pm. We arrived at 5pm. Maggie answered the door and we walked in. I put Claire’s overnight bag down and handed Maggie the birthday gift and waited for a parent to appear. I saw a man walking around in the backyard. I asked Maggie, “Is that your dad” and she replied, “No, he’s my dad’s coworker and he lives in our basement”. Instantly I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Yeah I basically made my decision right then and there that she wasn't spending the night. And the matter of her staying at all, was now in question.
I asked Maggie where her parents were and she said her mom just left to run to Walmart to get food for the party and she didn’t know where her dad was. Huh? Confusion set in. Why would you leave to go get food at the same time the guests are due to arrive at the party? And why is there no parent here to greet guests?
I told Maggie that I wanted to meet one of her parents before I left so I asked her to find her dad. She searched the house for her father and he finally appeared. Apparently he was sleeping…?
I chatted with Maggie’s father and got a feel for who he is, what he does, how they live, etc. He seemed like a nice-enough person but because of what had transpired in the last 15 minutes, I had decided Claire was not spending the night. I did let her stay at the party.
As I walked out the door, I grabbed Claire’s overnight bag and asked Claire to walk me out. I explained to her that I wasn’t comfortable with the situation and I would be back to pick her up at 10:00pm.
Apparently I watch too much Dateline and 20/20.
Outings With Friends
When Claire was 13 she wanted to go to a small festival-type outing with 2 other friends. This would be the first time there wouldn’t be a parent with them. I agreed to let her go for 2 hours. Baby steps. It was on a Sunday afternoon so I knew it would just be families with small children and probably no pedophiles or ex-cons.
The rules are you STAY TOGETHER! That means if someone has to use the bathroom, you all go! That means if someone is thirsty, you all escort each other to the concession stand. And you always have eyes on each other. If someone is not feeling well and wants to leave, you all leave together. No one gets left behind.
Your phone must be fully charged, the volume is as loud as it will go, and you check it often in case you miss my call or text.
If there is an emergency and you can't get ahold of a parent, find a compassionate-looking mommy and ask for help. I don’t even trust police anymore.
Apparently I watch too much Dateline and 20/20.
TV and Movies
We were watching a trailer for 22 Jump Street and I said I haven’t seen 21 Jump Street yet. Claire proudly said, “Oh I saw that” and I asked “What, when”? She said “At Susie’s house”. Apparently Susie’s parents let her watch whatever she wants to watch. I felt compelled to call Susie’s mom and explain to her that my daughter is not allowed to watch “R” rated movies. So now every time Claire goes to a friend’s house I convey our rules to the parents.
My daughter’s virgin eyes have now seen things here brain has difficulty comprehending…sex, drugs, violence. Okay maybe it’s not that big of a deal but movies are rated for a reason. Young minds are impressionable and sometimes cannot distinguish between reality and what is taking place on the screen in front of them.
I know people have theories about cartoons and how the violence shown in animated form is still just as bad as regular movies. I agree, and that’s why I made sure she viewed content that was equal to her intelligence and maturity level. I let her watch more mature cartoons as she got older. Spongebob is a good example. I love Spongebob but I felt the content was way too mature for her when she was 3, 4, 5 years old. I let her start watching it when she was about 8 years old.
It’s not just about their level of maturity though, it’s about consumption. The amount of consumption and the rate of consumption. If she watched all that was available to watch, she would be sitting in front of a screen for way longer than what’s appropriate in my opinion. That’s why I was selective.
She’s 16 years old now and I feel she is mature enough to watch some “R” rated movies. I scan the IMDB parent’s guide which is very descriptive so I can determine if it’s appropriate for a 16 year old. Some movies are rated “R” solely because they use the “F” word. I’m not so concerned about movies that use obscenities simply because I swear all the time so that’s not a big deal to me. I don’t want her watching movies with gratuitous sex, violence and drug use.
Trust me it’s a full-time job trying to keep these images out of her line of vision and I simply don’t have that kind of time so I just do the best I can. Her maturity level is clamoring for more interesting things to watch but everything that’s available has gratuitous sex, violence and drug use. It’s kind of sad but it’s the reality of our time.
As They Get Older
I want to make it clear that I’m sure things are falling through the cracks, but I’m doing as much as I can without driving either of us insane with rules and controls. They have to be able to suffer natural consequences also because that’s how they mature, self-correct, and grow.
As she gets older I loosen the reins a little as she shows me she can take on more responsibility. When she messes up, I pull back on the reins a little. I have explained this to her so she understands the rewards and the consequences.
Some Final Notes
We’re not perfect and it takes a big person to admit when they’ve made a mistake. Our kids need to know that we are human so it’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers but you’re willing to find the best solution for everyone. Use this opportunity to adjust the rules so they are more appropriate for their level of responsibility and age.
Some people think it's not important to explain "why" something is the way it is, but I prefer explaining to Claire why I have certain rules. I think it helps her see the mature thoughts behind my reasons. Sometimes it leads to a revealing discussion and both of us end up learning something.
Parent with a loving and compassionate heart but make sure they know their boundaries. Have an open mind but don’t let yourself be manipulated. Follow their lead, but listen to your gut. Ha, see how easy this is!?
It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open with your child(ren) from toddler and beyond. Encourage them to express themselves as well. But also understand that not everything needs to be talked about, especially when they are teens. You will a big 'eye-roll' if you continue to share your opinions when they are not wanted. Remember, they think your stupid so... Use your best judgment in deciding when to just sit quietly and listen without interjecting. Sometimes they just want a sounding board.
And lastly, try your best to stay in tune with your kids and give them a safe place to be vulnerable and truthful with you.
Oh, and I’ve cut back on how much I watch Dateline and 20/20…
What rules do you have for your children and how will those change as they get older? I’d love to hear your comments.
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Here are a few more posts you may find interesting.
Here’s a good article about Helicopter Parenting