Monday, March 30, 2015

Trying to Figure out my Teenagers

I've got two teenagers. One 13, one 15. And my daughter just turned 12 so she's well on her way.

For a while there, I felt like I was doing a pretty darn good job. Newborns were hard for me. Having 5 preschoolers felt insane at times. But then I had five elementary school-age children and I felt like I really hit my stride as a mom. We'd have great conversations and go on adventures together. They all thought I was the cat's meow and I felt the same about them. Their issues were generally things I could help with - book reports that needed to be finished at the last minute, a friend who wasn't being very nice, a teacher they were struggling with. It wasn't always easy, but I usually had a good sense of what to do and usually I'd come away feeling quite confident that I'd handled things well. That was a very nice phase of motherhood.

But as my oldest approached teenagerhood, things changed. I was often totally at a loss as my smart, fun, adventurous oldest child who'd always been so full of ideas and enthusiasm for life became this kid who drove me just about crazy with his moodiness, his negativity, his cutting comments to his younger siblings, his definance, his frequent lack of respect for me and his dad.

In desperation, I wound up doing a lot of things that didn't work very well (yelling, throwing out over-the-top consequneces, using scare tactics like "I think I'm going to have to send you to one of those wilderness camps for problem kids," or "if you keep going on the path you're on with schoolwork, you're never going to be able to get or hold a decent job so you'll never have a car and you'll never have your own home...").

And when I was being rational and deliberate, I tried some things that really worked great one day then didn't work the next (like giving every bit of positive reinforcement I could, meeting moodiness with cheerfulness, giving more individual attention...).

I tried to find time between everything else going on to read up on teenagers and ask questions to friends and family with teenagers. I learned some important things through pro-active searching - while learning other things through often-very-frustrating trial and error.

I recorded some things I learned and that seemed to be quite consistently true here:
Five Tips for Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Pre-Teens

But actually applying what I'd learned was often easier said than done.

Teenagers can sure humble you!

Now that I'm on teenager #2, I think I've got a few things figured out a bit better. Of course, he's different than his older brother so some of the things that work with one don't work with the other. But I'm less easily frustrated now and thanks to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with my oldest, the stuff my second son does feels less stressful - I've seen that this stage is hard and that it passes.

One of the main things I've learned about pre-teens and teenagers is that their brains are more like toddler brains than they are like the brain of an 8-10 year old or an adult.

A teacher mentioned this to me when talking to me about Ashton's poor performance in 6th grade. I went home and researched this idea that was new to me. And sure enough, teen brains in the process of re-wiring themselves as they go through puberty (read all about it here) and the irrationality and emotion typically seen in toddlers is a pretty normal part of the process. I realized that while I'd given my toddlers a "pass" when they had tantrums, I wasn't expecting to need to do the same for kids who'd come so far past that stage, who'd started to be such rational and fun people. I didn't realize they'd revert. But they do. They can't help it. They can and should do something about their reactions to the way this "rewiring" makes them feel. They need to take responsibility for their actions and work hard to keep their emotions and irrationality under control. But it's important to understand that this is often as hard for them as it is for us.

I remember being incredulous last year when Ashton told me that he was absolutely sure that studying for tests wouldn't be helpful to him. I pointed out that studying helps everyone else in the world and that surely he could see that when you look over something repeatedly, you'll be able to understand and remember it better. He ademantly insisted that he was the one person in the world for whom studying wouldn't make any difference. I was angry that he was insisting something that seemed utterly illogical - when just a few months before he'd seemed to be quite logical and rational.

Now I see that his brain was just doing its rewiring thing and that he was acting much like a toddler does when you try to explain that we need to clean up the toys before we can go play outside or we need to brush our teeth before we go to bed and they throw a full-on tantrum. He couldn't see cause and effect properly.

And just like a toddler, the more I'd insist, the more he'd dig in his heels. My explanations couldn't help when his brain could only see his need to be right and to get his own way.

I loved it when Ashton brought home a test with a great grade on it earlier this year with a big smile on his face. I congratulated him heartily and asked what he thought had helped him do so well. He said, "I studied." I had to smile and ask him whether he happened to remember saying last year that studying didn't help him one bit. And his response was, "That was the old Ashton who was going through his stupid phase."

We now refer frequently to "Old Ashton" when talking about behaviors that aren't doing him any favors and it's so nice that he's now able to see things that he wasn't able to see last year.

So as my 13-year-old, Isaac, digs in his heels about things and sometimes drives me crazy with his irrational ideas and behavior, I'm letting it roll off my back a bit more. I've learned to not take everything he says or does so seriously - or so personally - and not allow myself to be so frustrated. I'm learning to be careful about where I dig in my heels and set up a battle where there doesn't need to be one.

I've still got a lot to learn. A whole lot.

And there are moments when I feel really scared. The stakes just get higher and higher. I want to be firm about the right things and lenient about the right things. I want to hold them close without holding them so close they'll push away. I want to guide them towards success while respecting the successes THEY feel are important (or simply helping them understand that SOME kind of progress and success is an important part of life...). I want to love them in the way they want and need to be loved - but often they don't know what sort of loving they need and neither do I. There's a heck of a lot of trial and error.

This morning, as with every Sunday morning for the past many many weeks, Ashton and Isaac weren't ready for church on time. I set out their clothes the night before, I reminded them about what time we needed to leave and told them to set their alarms set as I tucked them in. I pleaded with them to please be ready on time because, as usual, I needed to lead the prayer meeting for the Primary teachers before church.

I went to their room to rouse them when I hadn't heard anything (as per the norm, they'd slept through alarms). I reminded them of everything that needed to happen, assured them that there would be just enough time if they kept moving, then headed downstairs to help the younger kids do their hair.

Ashton was quick in the shower (for once!) and I was excited that he'd be ready on time. His clothes were waiting in his room for him and the shower was done. What could go wrong? Isaac was slower and it was hard to hurry him along while doing other kids' hair but I gave him a few reminders. I gave everyone the 10 minute warning, then the 5 minute warning. I yelled up for Ashton for a status report. No answer. Strangely, I can hear just fine when I'm upstairs and someone yells from downstairs - but Ashton never seems to hear... Isaac came rushing downstairs asking for a belt - the one thing I hadn't set out for him. I had no idea where he'd put it. And he said he'd been looking for his shoes so that's why he was late - but his shoes were sitting right by the front door - he could have just asked me rather than wasting time looking for them. As I rushed Isaac out the back door with his shoes in hand so he could put them on in the car, I called for Ashton again and he finally came downstairs, hair all askew, We were now 10 minutes late and the three younger kids had been in the car for a while. On the way to church, I asked Ashton what in the world he'd been doing during the 25 minutes between when I heard him get out of the shower and when he finally came downstairs. He said he was getting dressed. I was pretty frustrated by this time and told him that only a disabled person or a toddler could possibly take such a long time putting on clothing that was sitting there, ready to put on. And I tried to spray down his hair but he wouldn't let me and was totally rude and unapologetic. I expressed, in none-too-polite terms, that I was SO SICK of Sunday mornings full of unnecessary craziness and was SO FRUSTRATED that they kept making everyone late and keeping me from doing what I needed to do for Primary. I took a bad situation and made it worse by letting my anger out.

It's just so hard to know what to do in certain impossible situations like Sunday mornings - I try to set everyone up for success but nothing I do seems to work sometimes. I'd just leave the boys and have them walk to church (it's not that far) but they're Deacons and are really need to be there first thing to pass the Sacrament. Jared's in meetings so he can't help or take them a bit after I need to leave. Arghhhhhh!

I thought it was hard when I had to wrangle a bunch of tiny kids to get them ready for church. And it was. But at least then I could physically pick them up and put their clothes on them and carry them to the car! Now my control is more limited.

Maybe my anger and the talk Jared had with them will make a difference this time. It hasn't previously. But who knows? I'll talk to them more this afternoon now that I'm calm and rational. But wow, there just aren't good answers sometimes. And this is just a little not-too-private incident that is OK to share. There's plenty of way more complicated and frustrating things that have happened and that aren't fully resolved...

So I've still got a ton to learn. But maybe some of this will be helpful to someone!

And to end on a happy note, these big boys of mine are SO much fun sometimes. I love having real discussions with them and really learning what they think about things. I love talking with them about the interesting facts that strike their fancy, seeing the funny YouTube videos they introduce me to, and having them introduce me to cool new music. I love seeing them interact with their friends and getting to know their friends. I love seeing them grow so tall and strong and having these big boys around to lift and move heavy stuff for me. I'm excited about Ashton's new Learner's Permit and the fun (and crazy) driving experiences we're having together (he's learning fast and doing great but wow, there have been a few white-knuckle moments with me trying to slam on some imaginary breaks on the floor of the passenger side). I love how they're always totally up for helping out when someone needs help moving or when there are little kids who need to be tended at our house while their parents are needed elsewhere (they're SO good with little kids - melts my heart to see them interacting with such love and care and fun with their little friends). They're generally really wonderful people and I'm so grateful for them. But wow, sometimes they drive me crazy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Easter Week Begins

Today is Palm Sunday. Time to get serious about Easter Week! I meant to get going extra early and follow the great program my sister Saydi put together to help focus the entire month leading up to Easter on getting to know Jesus better and preparing for Easter. But I didn't. Somehow the days just kept slipping away, packed to the hilt, and I never quite got it together to get Easter month going. Hopefully we'll do that next year. But for this year, we're getting going on our regular Easter Week celebrations and we'll add in some of Saydi's great stuff to keep it fresh. Plus we'll keep things going after Easter - might as well!

Here's an overview of our family's Easter Week ideas.

And here's the "Deliberate Mother's Guide to a Christ-Centered Easter" that I wrote for Power of Moms (includes lots of links to great videos and simple ideas.)

You can read all about Saydi's excellent ideas on her blog here - I will be incorporating lots of them even though I don't have a whole month! I love all that she put together and love her approach that she outlines in her blog post.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Our Family's Technology Contract

Now that Eliza is twelve and is out and about more with activities and babysitting for other families, we decided it was time for her to have a phone. And at the same time, we realized that some of the phone/tablet rules we set up when Ashton and Isaac first got phones hadn't been discussed for quite some time. So last night, Jared and I sat down with our three oldest and went over the "Technology Contract" we drew up a couple years ago. It was a great discussion. And I thought I'd share our family's contract here in case it's helpful to anyone else who's trying to navigate this new world of raising teenagers in a world where most kids carry around a phone and have instant access to so many things right in their pocket.

We had such a good discussion. The kids traded off reading the points in the contract and we talked about each one. It was a great chance to talk about how much we love and trust them and want to help them enjoy the great benefits of technology without having it cause them problems.

Jared and I are still figuring out our own boundaries with technology. It's so easy to give in to the desire to check a text or an email at the dinner table or look down at my phone while one of the kids is telling me something. We've got to figure all this out along with our children. And I think it helped them to hear that we're all going to figure this out together.

The following contract started from a contract that my sister Shawni posted on her blog ages ago - and she got it from someone else - and we added a lot of our own stuff. I finally found the original source (thanks to a helpful blog reader!) - here it is: To My 13-Year-Old: An iPhone Contract, With Love. 

Dear Children,

You are the proud users of technology we never dreamed of having when we were your age! You are good and responsible children and we WANT you to have these things.

But as with many things in your life, as your parents, we feel the need to present some rules and regulations because we adore you. We have been around a little longer than you have. We have seen the marvels of all this great technology and we are so grateful for it! But we have also noticed a gradual decline of old-fashioned communication that we feel is so very important for your spirit and your general development. So we’d like to introduce you to some rules and regulations we are establishing in our home.

Please read through the following contract. We hope that you understand it is our job to raise you into well-rounded, healthy young individuals that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. You may be mad at us for a while about some of these things. You have enjoyed some great technological freedom which you have not abused very much and we are proud of you for that. But we feel the need to train you (as we train ourselves) to not let technology take over in our family or with your friends.

Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your technology freedom.

We love you with all our hearts and look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the years to come.

  1. In general, every cell phone, computer, tablet, etc. in our home is a family technology device. We, your parents, have bought these things. We paid for them. We are loaning them to you with the understanding that you will act responsibly.
  2. If you’d like to purchase your own technological device, talk to us about what you’d like to purchase and why. We reserve the right to say no to purchases that we feel will be detrimental to you or to our family. All rules here apply to all devices used in our home whether they were purchased by us or by you.
  3. If you choose to put a password on your devices down the road, we will always know the password. That includes online (e.g. email, social, etc. accounts). Mom and Dad may go through these items with you at various times so we can get a better feel for your lives. Mom will ask to see your texts quite a bit after school and Dad will ask to see your texts every week in his weekly interview with you. We ask that you do not delete any texts until we've had a chance to glance over them. We do this to help you learn appropriate communication skills and be more "in the loop" about what is going on in your life.
  4. Technology devices are primarily tools to accomplish tasks (which can also include entertainment). Every time you get on the computer or TV or a phone or a tablet, you need to have a specific thing that you want to accomplish in mind (it can be a fun thing!). Don’t waste time watching or reading stuff that isn’t particularly interesting to you. Life is too short to waste time just channel surfing or surfing the internet.
  5. Technological tools are not meant to be the only resource for research, entertainment, and communication. Read books. Play games. Go on bike rides. Hang out and chat with your cool parents and siblings.
  6. Limit your time and use technology wisely. We will work with you to determine an appropriate amount of time for you to spend on the things you’d like to do in front of a screen. If you’re not able to control your time, we will have to enforce strict limits for you. We would much rather NOT have to police every little thing you do with technology. The more you prove that you can be trusted with technology, the more we will trust you.
  7. We ask that you do all non-technology tasks BEFORE asking to do tasks involving technology.
  8. Computers are only to be used in common areas. They are not to be used in your bedrooms. Tablets can be taken in your bedroom with permission only.
  9. No texting, emailing or using phones after bedtime.
  10. Pay attention to your teachers at school and at church. Work hard on assignments. Fill your brains with knowledge. NO phones in classrooms and phones must be turned off at lunch. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It's a life skill.
  11. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone electronically that you would not say out loud with your parents in the room. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Censor yourself. 
  12. Remember that texting is for information exchange (like what time to meet where) but talking is for expressing feelings, discussing the pros and cons of where and when to meet and what to do, and handling relationship issues. It can take a long time and result in miscommunication when you try to communicate too much via text. A quick phone call or in-person chat can be much more effective.
  13. Do not text or look at your phone while you are with someone else in person. If you need to quickly text a parent to let them know where to pick you up or something like that, wait for a natural break in the conversation, excuse yourself, and quickly take care of the text. It is rude to text someone while talking to someone else. The person you're with in person should take presidence over others. The people you're not with who are trying to contact you via text or phone can wait until you're at a good stopping point in a conversation.
  14. These devices are not to be used while you have friends over. If you are with friends, you’re not sitting and staring at a screen together. An occasional interactive game is fine, but just watching people play on a computer isn’t how you interact with friends. The same rules apply when at a friend’s house. If we feel that there is too much time in front of screens happening at a friend's house and you don't feel comfortable suggesting alternative activities at that friend's house, we will likely want to have that friend come to our house instead of you going to that friend's house.
  15. At this point in the game, we reserve the right to be the only ones to give you permission to get any new apps, and programs. Please let us know if you want something new and why - even when it's a totally free app. We love to discuss these things with you and we mostly trust your judgement.
  16. No pornography or anything that gives you that sort of creepy feeling that comes from looking at something that doesn't see totally right to be looking at. Be sure you're only looking at information on the Internet that you'd honestly feel totally comfortable looking at if we were sitting beside you. Chances are great that at some point, you'll wind up seeing something inappropriate on the Internet. When that happens, close the window right away and come talk to us about it. If you have a question about anything, ask us...we know more than you think we do:)
  17. Do not take seductive or inappropriate pictures of yourself or anyone else - ever. Remember first and foremost that in our family we seek after goodness and want to shine our light to others. Remember also that cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. Be careful what you put there. It is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear--including a bad reputation and hurt feelings.
  18. If a technological device falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It very well may happen, you should be prepared.
  19. Turn off technology and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO (fear of missing out).
  20. In addition to the music you love, download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons. And share your favorite music with us!
  21. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then - there are great options on your phone and it's great to use your phone to exercise your brain. Be sure you're also playing board games and non-technology-based games with lots of human interaction.
  22. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Look out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to people face to face. Wonder without googling.
  23. At dinner time, Family Home Evening, and other family time, there’s no looking at screens.  
  24. Most importantly, remember that your spirit is the most important thing you have. Don’t let technology cramp your wonderful spirit. Don’t ever let your phone or technology seep into your relationship with your Heavenly Father. The noise of technology is quick to make us all think looking at a screen is more important than talking, especially to Heavenly Father. Make a practice to read your scriptures before you check texts or Facebook in the morning. Pray first as well.
  25. You will mess up. We’ll probably have to take away your technology rights at times. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We are always learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

It is our hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply only to phones, computers, or gadgets, but to life in general. You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine.

We love you forever.

Mom and Dad

P.S. I did a Power of Moms Radio episode with Ashton and Isaac where we talked about this contract and technology in general - you can click here to listen.


Related Posts with Thumbnails