[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Talking to Teens
Communication is always a huge concern for parents in the teen years. The strong, open communication channel created in the early years through Gentle Parenting, coupled with the mutual respect and trust foundation established, provide a powerful platform for a healthy parent/teen relationship. Simply put, children/teens who feel heard and understood and respected don’t need to fight to be heard, understood, and respected. Or, conversely, they don’t slip away into the sullen, angry, withdrawn teen who doesn’t bother to even try to be heard anymore because they never felt heard or understood as a young child.
Again, this is not to say that the gently raised adolescent will be perfect. None of us are! But with a healthy relationship based on open, honest communication, issues can be addressed as they arise and in a respectful and timely manner instead of a teen feeling the need to go ‘underground’ with their behavior or problems.
So, that said, what are some practical tips for talking to teens?
- Honesty is paramount. Teens will tune out faster than you can imagine if they sense you’re being less than transparent with them. (See ‘Dealing with the Hard Stuff’ below). Only in a mutually honest environment will a teen be willing to share their deepest fears, hopes, disappointments, etc.
- Along with this goes the need to be able to say anything, anything at all, and know they will be heard and accepted without judgement, without repercussion. Consequences for broken rules should never come as a result of a heart-to-heart discussion, or it may well be the last heart-to-heart your teen will have with you. You can and should honestly express your concern and even disappointment if appropriate, but don’t make it all about yourself or the conversation and chance for real connection will end.
- Respect is key. Embarrassment is like Kryptonite to a teen. Ridiculing them, making light of their feelings, minimizing their experiences by ‘one-upping’ them with yours are surefire ways to shut down a conversation with a teen permanently.
- Reassurance is healing. Teens need to know they are normal. They need to hear that everyone has ‘bad’ thoughts sometimes and that doesn’t make them ‘bad.’ Sharing some crazy thoughts that have popped into your head through the years and how “It’s not the thought, it’s what you do with the thought that matters” will help them realize they aren’t abnormal. (You’d be surprised how many teens think they’re abnormal! ‘Normal’ matters to them HUGELY.)
- Burn the midnight oil with your teen. For whatever reason, adolescents seem to be naturally nocturnal creatures. When the house is quiet and nothing is competing for attention, guards begin to drop, emotions mellow, and in the stillness of the night soft-voiced conversations invite deep, meaningful discussions. Don’t let the busyness and business of life rob you of these sweet moments with your teens who will so very soon be off on their own in the adult world.
Too Late for Teens?
So what do you do if you’re the parent of a teenager and have only just discovered Gentle Parenting? Is it too late to implement any of the Gentle Parenting philosophy to establish connectedness and mutual respect and ease the transition into adulthood? And what if your teenager is in full-on rebellion mode? Is there anything Gentle Parenting can do for you?
The answers aren’t easy, by any means, and they aren’t given with a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude as if I am unaware of how challenging making changes at this stage can be, let alone how challenging teens themselves can be! But, that said, there are some basic tenets that you can begin the hard work of weaving into your parenting even at this late stage. So put on your hard hats, because you’re going to need them!
1) Don’t engage! Win or lose, they’ll enjoy the argument, and you won’t.
2) Apologize! Take responsibility for past and present parenting mistakes. As mentioned earlier, teens can sniff out hypocrisy like bloodhounds, and acting like you’re perfect (which is how they’ll interpret that missing apology) smells an awful lot like hypocrisy to them.
3) Be real! Nothing will make a teen more resentful than you demanding behavior from them that you aren’t modeling in your own life.
4) Be available! If you haven’t been available in the past, openly let your teen know that you’ve made mistakes and would like to change, then let them know you are available to them, day or night, whether your favorite tv show is on or not, even if you have work to do, or emails to read, or phone calls to return…no matter what!
5) Communicate! If you feel your early parenting hasn’t established the open communication vital to a healthy parent/teen relationship, it isn’t too late to make some renovations to bridge the gap. Just start talking…about your own life, your own struggles, your own needs, and just start sharing, about your love for them, your hopes for them, your pride in them.
6) Let go! When a child reaches the teen years, it’s time to begin slowly releasing them from parental controls and start letting them make more of their own choices. This is not to say that you stop being their parent, but that you begin to consciously shift your role in your teen’s life further and further away from guardian and caretaker, and closer and closer to a supportive, accepting, mentoring role…in short, a friendship role that will set the stage for your relationship with your adult child. This conscious shifting on your part will help to make your teen’s transition from child to adult a cooperative effort between you rather than a source of conflict.
7) Move! No joke. If your teen is involved with a bad group, is immersed in drugs, gangs, etc…pack up and move. I know it’s easier said than done. I know there are all kinds of job and economic issues involved. I know it’s a huge sacrifice. And I know they’ll fight you on it. But if everything else has failed, removing them from negative influences and situations to give them a chance at a fresh start may be the best, or only, choice. And, letting your teen know that they are the first and most important priority in your life, more important than your job, home, the life you’ve built, or anything else, will in and of itself go a long way toward healing your relationship.
8) Pray! Don’t discount God in your parenting. After all, He’s the parent of a lot more people than any of us will ever be! God is very clear on the fact that He cares, that He listens, and that nothing is impossible when we ‘cast our cares on’ Him. So don’t forget to make daily calls (prayers) to the one Gentle Parenting Expert who’s on-call 24/7.
From tantrums to whining to tattling to the endless ‘why’s,’ the evolution of children’s communication proceeds at a steady and relatively predictable pace, though the timing is influenced by factors such as individual personality, cognitive development, home environment, etc. Once children have a solid grasp of language and have developed more advanced reasoning and processing skills, and once they’ve examined the in’s and out’s of their parents’ thoughts and beliefs, they begin to turn their attention to discovering their own interests and gifts and personalities.
Parents often begin to notice their children ‘becoming their own person’ during this time and we hear laments such as “She’s eight going on eighteen” and “He’s already changed career plans four times, and he’s only ten!” It is during this period in childhood that children often develop into a chatterbox or a dreamer, though most will be unique combinations of the two.
When you have a chatterbox, whether you have a seven-year-old who could literally spend entire days describing every super hero’s powers, weapons, weaknesses, enemies, and transportation or a nine-year-old who can list every horse breed, how to handle grooming, and what type of equipment to use for each kind of riding, the chattering can be deafening! The common theme is exploring who they are and what they like and what they think, all of which is accompanied by an intense need to share this fascinating process with the people they respect and admire the most…their parents, teachers, grandparents, siblings, anyone they’ve built a strong trust relationship with in their earlier years.
Chatterboxes can be challenging, to say the least. The endlessness of their talking, the intensity of their focus, and the often fickle nature of their passion (just when you get used to the daily commentary on the virtues of all things aquatic, their interest shifts and you’re getting a lesson in martial arts that would make an encyclopedia look dumb!) can really keep you off balance.
A common problem parents encounter at this stage is dealing with how to encourage their children in their interests without pushing them. So often when a child expresses interest in music a parent immediately buys a trumpet and enrolls him in lessons only to find that their budding Louis Armstrong has suddenly decided music is for the birds. His interests have flown elsewhere, and he’s now too busy pursuing his new passion for veterinary medicine to bother with something so pedantic as practicing the trumpet!
While encouraging our children to follow through on their commitments is important, we need to let them lead the way as much as possible. One way to avoid this situation is to watch that we aren’t jumping into things too quickly rather than giving our children a chance to explore their interests unhindered by the demands and pressures of lessons and competitions.
The constant nature of the chattering can be grating on parental (and sibling, teachers’, grandparents’!) nerves, to be sure. However, not only allowing, but also encouraging, our chatterboxes to share their thoughts as they begin to navigate the “Who am I? What inspires me? What will I be?” stage is important for a number of reasons.
- First, for a chatterbox, the need to be heard is intense, and it’s a wise parent who meets that need. Not only does remaining open and available at this stage continue to build the trust that is so vital for a respectful and peaceful relationship, but it also sets the stage for healthy communication in the rapidly approaching teen years.
- Second, a child who is heard and encouraged in discovering themselves at this stage tends to enter adolescence a more well-grounded and focused individual. Young people who head into the teen years without having begun the process of self discovery in middle childhood are more likely to be rudderless and vulnerable to peer pressure.
- Third, there is a unique window of clarity, a ‘honeymoon’ so to speak, in the middle years of childhood wherein language skills have been acquired, cognitive processes have matured, and the clouding of adolescent hormones and pressures and outside relationships aren’t in the mix to muddy the waters. This is prime real estate for encouraging self discovery while parental wisdom still seems wise to a child.
On the other end of the spectrum of middle childhood is the dreamer. Some children become extraordinarily introspective during this period. They are often lost in thought and may be perceived as inattentive or withdrawn. Oddly, it may seem harder to parent a dreamer because, while we rarely have to wonder what’s going on in the mind of a chatterbox, it takes a constant, subtle level of awareness to stay in tune with a young dreamer. That awareness is vital, though, because your young dreamer still needs your attention and empathetic support and guidance, just in different ways.
Some of the subtleties to be aware of are
- Signs of discomfort in social situations that they may not verbalize, but that we can offer insights into or alternatives to;
- Signs of anxiety such as frequent headaches or stomach aches which could be non-verbal cues that need our attention;
- And watching for what topics inspire their interest so we can encourage them on their road to self-discovery.
Checking in frequently with a dreamer is important since they may not volunteer information. Asking questions such as “That must have been difficult” and “I feel like you’re struggling with that. Can I help?” along with observations such as “You seem to find that interesting” are discussion openers they may or may not take you up on, but let them know you care. Don’t push them to open up, though, by constant probing questions or being unwilling to follow their lead if they aren’t ready to talk.
Just create the opportunity for conversation and, if possible, do so at regular intervals and in a quiet place so that they know they can count on a private time to share when they are ready. Prepare to simply sit in companionable silence during these times so your young dreamer won’t feel rushed or pressured, but don’t be surprised if they occasionally transform into a chatterbox and let all their pent up passions out at once before drifting back into their inner world.
It is important to be aware, though, of the subtle signs that can differentiate a dreamer from a withdrawn, angry, or depressed child. While a dreamer may often be in their own little world, it tends to be a happy world. If your child seems sad, is overly irritable, has trouble concentrating, seems overly tired, becomes extremely sensitive to and negatively affected by social situations, etc (read more here) then it may be wise to seek a professional evaluation.
Sharing yourself, your thoughts, your culture, and your values with your child; growing a strong, open communication channel; and encouraging a healthy curiosity are all invaluable investments in your child’s future, even if they are at the expense of a bit of peace and quiet in the present! Why, oh why, do children always ask WHY?
When a child tattles, what they are actually doing is a rudimentary form of the advanced life skill of ‘Pause. Think. Respond.’ but they need help finding an appropriate and effective response. The child who seeks out an adult for guidance is indicating trust in the adult and respect for the adult’s opinions and abilities. Rethinking Tattling
Here’s a shocker for you: Whining is actually a sign of maturity! Yep, that unnerving, endless, nails-on-a-chalkboard, make-your-head-explode whine is a sign that your little one is growing up and, get this, gaining self-control! I can see your heads shaking, but read on, parents, caregivers, and bleeding ears of the world, read on. Why Whining is a Win!
One effective tool for use in helping little ones cope with big emotions is a Calm-Me-Jar. Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-Ins, Oh My!
We’ve added a Dr Seuss Quiet Bag to our Parenting in Public: Toddler Time page, and we’re working on a Dr Seuss Quiet Book, too!
The most challenging, independent children tend to be the ones who need the most intentional parental reconnection. Strong will=Strong need! Testing the Boundaries~What’s A Parent To Do?
For Captain America, the dream became a reality because of a diabolical villain trying to take over the world and a risky scientific experiment to create a hero who could stop him. (Seriously, though, who would really let strangers stick them in a radiation chamber and inject green slime into their body?!?)
For children who feel like nobodies, though, who struggle everyday, who have to work harder in class than their peers, Captain America might just be the key to unlocking the power to read.
Children like My Renaissance Girl who struggle with severe dyslexia and/or other learning disabilities as well as children who don’t have learning disabilities but are reluctant readers [ImaginationSoup.net] often rely heavily upon illustrations to help them keep track of the storyline. This provides them with the motivation to continue to read, which in turn increases their ability to read, thus increasing their motivation to read…success leading to success…a virtuous circle!
However a problem arises because, while high quality, beautifully illustrated children’s picture books abound, books appropriate for and of interest to older children often are either sparsely illustrated or not illustrated at all.
Enter the comic book!
Comic books, now generally known as graphic novels, have increasingly been finding their way into classrooms and school libraries as teachers search for tools to not only help their students learn how to read, but to tap into the vivid imagination that is the hallmark of childhood and turn their students onto a lifelong love of reading.
The Graphic Classroom founder, Chris Wilson, has made it his mission to seek out excellent graphic novels covering a wide range of subjects and styles and get them into the public education system here in the U.S.
From Da Vinci: The Renaissance Man to The Action Bible, the graphic novel industry has come a long way from the days of Archie and Jughead. The venerable Stan Lee, himself a rags to riches story on the order of his Marvel character, Captain America, is credited with a large portion of the popularity of the ever more sophisticated world of the graphic novel. His relatable characters, real-world storylines, conversational style, and stunning graphic art have contributed immeasurably to the emergence of graphic novels from the dark ages of the dime store shelves to a powerhouse industry with much to offer the literary world.
When it comes to literacy, Stan Lee brought his own superpowers into play with the formation of the Stan Lee Foundation “to do whatever I could to fight illiteracy in children. Any child who grows up illiterate, unable to read and write — or even semi-literate — can be considered handicapped. Competition throughout the world has grown so keen that every young person needs every possible advantage to even the competitive playing field. The ability to read well, to study, comprehend, and process information is absolutely vital for success as an adult.”
Utilizing graphics in teaching reading is certainly not a foreign concept. Picture books for younger children have been used for centuries to interest children in the written word. (Check out this incredibly cool Superhero ABC graphic art novel for early childhood education!) But incorporating art in the form of illustrations and graphics into curriculum for older students seems to be a relatively new and somewhat controversial concept as evidenced by the Common Core State Standards [Education Week] being adopted in all but three states so far which states “the text should be central, and surrounding materials should be included only when necessary, so as not to distract from the text itself.”
Clearly, the object of the Common Core State Standards is to focus on the mechanics of reading, in effect producing students able to read manuals and textbooks, but with no engagement of the heart, no delighting of the soul, no enrichment of the imagination. In short, the purpose seems to be to produce a generation of automatons who can pass a test on Da Vinci, but can’t think or create or imagine or invent like Da Vinci.
When you consider that “Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed, from scholarship and job success to voting and playing sports.” [BookReporter.com], it makes more sense to raise bookworms than to program robots.
Successful reading means far more than possessing the ability to read. Engaging the hearts of students moves reading success beyond a life skill and turns it into a life style. Children who love to read…READ. Adults who love to read…READ. And graphic novels are too powerful of a tool in our arsenal to be disregarded because of pride or prejudice.
Children who love to read…READ! Engaging children’s hearts in the wonder of reading instead of just training their minds in its mechanics. Raising Bookworms
8 Reasons to Let Your Kids Read Comics. Imagination Soup
It’s time for a return to childhood, to simplicity, to running and climbing and laughing in the sunshine, to experiencing happiness instead of being trained for a lifetime of pursuing happiness…it’s time to let children be children again. A Return to Childhood
Think homeschooled children are unsocialized, over-controlled, locked-away-from-the-world misfits? Think again! My Renaissance Girl
There’s another teenager in our house! My Renaissance Girl turned thirteen this week. It’s hard to believe my little preemie who started her days in the NICU, came home at 3 lbs 13 oz on an apnea/heart monitor, has struggled with severe dyslexia, sensory and auditory processing disorders, vestibular issues, attention deficit disorder, and more, is now a poised and confident young lady who is frequently absorbed in classic literature, enthralled with the art of Masters such as Van Gogh and Degas, and who’s musical tastes run from Mozart to The Beatles.
My children are homeschooled and are quite used to interacting in a mutually respectful manner with adults in banks, doctor’s offices, libraries, etc, so it’s always a bit of a culture shock when we run into society’s negative view of adolescents as we did on Renaissance Girl’s birthday. Literally, every time we mentioned that it was her thirteenth birthday as we shopped for gifts and took her for a birthday lunch, the reaction was rolled eyes and either expressions of condolences or warnings to my husband and I. Well, except for the one waiter who leered at her until my hubs caught his eye and shut him down!
What a world we live in, seriously. Is it any wonder that teenagers seem to have anti-social tendencies when, based on chronology alone, they’re either pigeon-holed as miscreants without anyone taking the time to actually talk to them (or, more importantly, listen to them!) or immediately become the object of sexual attention?
For those of you willing to look beyond the number of years a person has lived on this earth and see the person themselves, let me introduce you to a young lady who has some amazing gifts to offer this world…my Renaissance Girl!
Renaissance Girl has a heart for the elderly, the poor, the hurting, for anyone who is suffering. From her earliest years she would toddle up to an elderly person sitting alone at church or the park and climb up beside them to ‘chat’ or sing them a song or show them a flower she’d picked. Her heart breaks when she hears of children being abused or neglected, and she plans to adopt as many as her future husband will agree to (and with her sweet, strong spirit, I imagine she’ll follow through on that!)
The paintings of The Masters ignite Renaissance Girl’s imagination. For her birthday we ordered a Van Gogh’s ’Starry Night’ inspired ice cream cake from our little town’s best kept secret…Donna C, the decorator at our local Dairy Queen!
As part of our interest-led homeschooling, we’ll be working our way through unit studies on Michelangelo, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, and more with materials from here.
Renaissance Girl has decorated her room like a small artist’s loft with a drafting desk, a custom mural of a Parisian street scene (by your’s truly!), a romantic little reading nook with twinkle lights, and a stainless steel cable (Ikea!) stretched across the wall for her to hang her art, along with an art wall waiting to be filled.
Renaissance Girl studies with Mozart filling the silence (an SPD and ADD coping technique), and then rocks out to the Beatles on her brother’s Xbox Rock Band. She picks out tunes on the piano, trying to teach herself to play by ear, and is working on teaching herself to play the guitar.
Her beautiful mind sees the world through a unique lens similar to those of historical icons such as Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. While academics have been a huge challenge for her, the artistic and musical gifts she’s been given are incredible, and her gentle, sensitive soul is a rare and precious treasure. Many years of therapy have yielded the ability to read, and she’s like a butterfly newly emerged from her cocoon. Jane Eyre, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, all have sent her beautiful mind soaring to different times and places, and all have become intimate, lifelong friends with my sweet Renaissance Girl. (From Beautiful Minds)
From her own artistic ability to her fascination with The Masters, her beautiful voice to her eclectic taste in music, and her humorous storytelling to her love of literature, my Renaissance Girl is much, much more than ‘just’ a teenager or ‘just’ a girl or ’just’ anything. She is an incredible gift to the world, and our family is blessed beyond measure to have her!
Think homeschooled children are unsocialized, over-controlled, locked-away-from-the-world misfits? Think again!
From goofing around in Goofy hats at Downtown Disney to playing Just Dance 3 on the Xbox Kinect, from gales of giggles pushing each other on the tire swing to gathering around to check out the awesome cello mastery of ThePianoGuys, from chowing down on mexican food at Tijuana Flats to burning waffles for breakfast, and from trying on jewelry to decorating cupcakes, these homeschooled girls are as All-American as apple pie!
Check out Renaissance Girl’s favorite YouTube version of ThePianoGuy’s dueling cellos!
Happy 13th Birthday, My Renaissance Girl!
An aged beauty tips her face up, and her elderly companion leans down out of life-long habit to catch her soft voice. His old eyes see past the ever-deepening lines to the vision of youth he married decades earlier. His hands reach out to steady her fragile, but oh-so-familiar frame, and she smiles the same smile he’s woken up to and kissed goodnight his entire adult life. Theirs is an old love, subtle with wear, ripe with age, its rich beauty lost to those without the palate to plumb its boundless depths or the senses to delight in its warm bouquet. They are a living love story, two hearts time-stitched into one, beautiful old souls stepping in tandem toward eternity.
Truly, love does have many seasons and faces, each revealing its own power, its own purpose…
Young love shouts from the rooftops and expresses itself in passionate displays. Its flames are brilliant, stoked with newness and fueled with idealism, but at times it burns itself out with its own heat or through lack of care and tending.
Old love whispers quietly, “I’m here. No matter what, I’m always here.” It is a silent glance, a hand clasp, a timeless commitment.
Young love, blind to the rich time-tested tapestry, deaf to the wealth of meaning in quiet companionship, lost to the supple oneness of hearts in accord, often looks at old love and calls it dead.
Old love sometimes looks at young love and smiles with fond remembrance, but ofttimes shakes its head and declares it foolish.
Each has a place in the world, a purpose, a time, and a season.
And then there are the other faces of love…
The exhausted young mother tenderly cradling a brand new life in the early morning hours. The middle-aged man getting up at four o’clock in the morning for another backbreaking day of work to support his family. The teacher spending her meager pay to make sure her students have pencils. The pastor visiting a convicted felon just to play a game of cards. The teenager stopping to help a stranger push their stalled car to the side of the road…
Each speaks love in a different language, but the message is the same…love is alive.
There is another Love, a living, breathing, timeless, endless, lavish, inconceivable, unconditional, sacrificial, unlikely Love. His Name is Love because He is Love. He and I have an old love, a stalwart and enduring love, a time-tested, unraveled and rewoven, wounded and healed, shattered and renewed love.
In the beginning, when I was newly in love with my Love, His passion fueled mine and I was consumed. I flared white-hot and brandished His Name like a sword, intent on conquering the world all on my own and presenting it as a treasure to my Love. I scorned the quiet love of my elders as a burned-out relic, not fit for my King.
Then time passed and life happened. My Love clung to me fiercely through the storms, even as my own grasp weakened and slipped. My Love held me close in the dark and never let go even when I kicked and flailed and railed at Him because I couldn’t see Him through my tears.
And my young love grew into an old love, deep and rich and still. Our old love is a stunning tapestry of life and loss, triumph and tragedy, joy and heartache, woven from the tattered and torn remnants of our young love.
Now, in place of conquering the world, I let Him love the world through me. Instead of proselytizing, evangelizing, and sermonizing for my King, I let His love permeate all I do like the subtle fragrance of rain as it washes clean the earth. Rather than feverishly working to present My Love a treasure, I bask in His presence knowing I am His treasure.
And our beautiful old souls step lightly toward eternity…
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To Everything…Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
There is a season…Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late