When my kids were about 12, I was in a meeting with a woman with adult children.
She said something wise, which has stuck with me since then and proven true time and time again.
Backing up a little, that day I was at a meeting with providers (which means people who work as professionals with families) discussing how to help encourage a family with a teenager to provide a safe environment where the child could either continue to live or that they could return back to living.
At the time, I was providing Home Based Therapy in Marion County, Indiana.
My role as a therapist was to work with the children and adults in a family to help the adults provide a safe, stable environment to the teens or children which had not been provided at some point.
The families in this program had experienced abused or neglect in some way.
Her words of wisdom went something like this:
‘Toddlers and Teen are just the same. A two year old and a four year old are bursting with the independence that they are trying to obtain. We expect it, and we allow for it.
They are small people, so they can be relatively easy to contain in general.
Teenagers are bigger versions. A 12 year old is like a 2 year old, and a 14 year old is like a 4 year old.
They are much bigger in size, are not nearly as easy to control physically, and are also generally bursting with ideas for their own independence as well’
One of my favorite things about this supervisor was her ability to get her team to provide quality work.
At that time, I was providing direct service (therapy) for 18 months, which was a break from supervising staff. I have supervised staff for the majority of my career, so this experience allowed me to learn from her a little differently than if we were peers.
She supervised her staff in a way which encouraged reliability, communication, and caring for the families they worked with.
She supervised people who worked for the Department of Child Services, which is a very difficult role to be in.
We know that anyone who has gone through their adolescent years, or early twenties, or whenever we ‘broke’ away from our parents in some ways, that it is part of adolescence, has experienced this.
Adolescents have the job of establishing independence. They are more interested in their peers and their friends, developmentally. Their parents are trying to advise and guide them to making safe decisions.
One of the norms that I have noticed changing a bit in the last few years is about perceived safety and how we deal with teens and those computers in their hands.
When I was a teen, back in the 80’s, I had some pretty emphatic boundaries. My parents were stricter than many of my friends’ parents in some ways, so if I went on a date in high school we stayed in Tipton.
Keeping my location local helped my parents with a sense of safety, while also extremely limiting our movie and dinner options.
We had one movie theatre with one screen, and a few places to eat but not many of them involved sitting down and ordering.
We were beginning to learn about typing on computers at school, but personal computers would come out a few years later.
How does this apply to you?
Think about how you parent your child, particularly if they are a teen.
I was able to hear Dawn Crossman speak on Saturday at an event called ‘SHIFT’, which was put on by the Peyton Reikoff Foundation.
She discussed some things about parenting intense teens that I have found in my experiences as well.
As teens work to establish that sense of self and figure out who they are, we need to protect them when we can and allow some mistakes, just like we do with our 2 and 4 year olds.
If a two year old is still struggling to walk well, we don’t tell them to stop walking.
We encourage them to figure out how to walk better through those falls where they plop down. I love to watch early walkers run, and lead with those giant heads.
The same is true for 12 year olds and 14 year olds.
Let them make mistakes they can learn from, while staying aware of their own tendency to, as my husband coined, ‘run with the bad ideas’.
He was talking with my son at dinner one night during those pre-teens years and mentioned ‘you get a ‘bad’ idea, you think it is good, and then you run with it. You just run faster and faster with the idea’.
I tend to avoid using the terms good and bad, but think about this and how it relates to you.
My son loves people, loves to have fun, and loves to spend time with friends. We worked, in high school, to encourage him to complete his home work at a pace possibly slower than 100 mph, but we did not monitor it.
Having academically strong children comes with its own sets of perks and balances, and for us one reality was that we never monitored their homework closely.
We did look at their power school, or the school website where grades were listed, and my guess is this conversation either had something to do with hanging out with friends longer than allowed him to have sleep, or it had something to do with turning in an assignment he had missed.
Either way, the example was used that day, and for years to come. Eventually it got shortened to ‘just keep running! Keep running with those ideas’, with a smile and some arm motions imitating running.
As we parent our children, we want to establish a sense of trust when we can.
We want to hold our children, pre-teens, and teens accountable to help motivate them to make decisions that will ultimately help them grow into accountable adults who are productive citizens.
Making it work:
Think about who you want to motivate, who might be acting like a temper tantruming toddler.
How do you encourage them, as they are demonstrating that independence so willfully, to continue to be persistent in ways that help them and to give-in in ways that are holding them back?
I encourage you to think of a way to use that accountability and knowledge of their developmental age as you make rules, consequences, and motivate those in your care.
I hope you enjoy your weekend! Basketball is everywhere if you enjoy watching it.