Teenage Freedom?

‘How do I give my twelve year old freedom but also keep an eye on her without her thinking that I don’t trust her?’

What’s helpful when teenagers are pushing  for freedom and you’re worried about their safety?

As parents we develop strategies to try to keep our teens safe – but not all are necessarily helpful.

The Checking Up Strategy

What I think isn’t helpful is ‘sneaky’ checking up.

I think of one mother who used to surreptitiously check her teenage daughter’s phone. The daughter resorted to renaming the ‘not- allowed’ boyfriend as ‘Jenny’ on her phone.

Life has a strange way of boomeranging – and if you do sneaky you’re likely to get sneaky.

One of the things that I did with my sons that was helpful was to have a policy that if they wanted to go out, we, as parents, would be phoning the parents who were hosting the event so that we could check arrangements.

They knew this was the deal and that we would not agree to them going out if there was anything that was of concern to us.

The ‘ParentPepTalk’ Strategy

I was so anxious that my sons would turn out ‘right’ that I thought it was my job to repeatedly remind them what ‘good’, responsible behaviour looked like. Now I look back I recognise that my sons had been taking ‘snapshots’ of ‘how we do life’ from a very early age. By the time they get to their teens they have a complete reference catalogue stored up –

how we do conflict

how we deal with upset feelings

what we do if we can cheat and get away with it

how we show love

what’s okay and not okay.

The endless list is already stored and the last thing teens need or want at this stage of their lives is the constant peptalk.  When my son was in his early teens he told me about boys drinking at parties,  he immediately got the  ‘That’s not okay, please don’t you ever do that, I’ll be so disappointed, blaah, blaah, blaah’ ad infinitum lecture. So what happened within a couple of years is he stopped telling me what was happening in his life. The wiser me now recognises that he was telling me because he was trying to make sense of the standards we’d encouraged. It would have been more helpful if I’d just listened to what he wanted to share and asked his opinion.

We can get so worried by what we think might go wrong that we only focus on the negatives. What I know now is that if a child has a strong sense of self-esteem she’s not going to be trying to fill the ‘hole in her soul’ with drink, drugs, sex and all the other parent nightmares.  A child with a strong self-esteem has an inner core she can rely on.

So how do we build young people’s self esteem?

Recognise that self esteem is much more than self confidence. Self Esteem is like a three legged stool and confidence is only one of those ‘legs’. Like any stool we need the legs to be of equal length and strength for a stable base.  I’m most grateful for learning this concept through Jesper Juul’s book: ‘Your Competent Child’.

So let’s look at each of these:

Confidence comes from our sense of competence.  Learning to be able to do things for yourself and to be able to figure out what’s needed is all part of confidence building.  Obviously a situation that’s too big and overwhelming and beyond the child’s control will have the opposite effect and would damage the child’s confidence. That’s why it is important that we as parents both build our children’s confidence and also set clear boundaries around what we do and don’t permit.

Confidence is built when young people can figure out their own solutions. If parents are always rushing in to solve every dilemma, how do children learn?  Ask yourself if there are times when it would be more helpful to let your child take the consequences of her action (or inaction).

Belonging In the teen years a sense of being part of the group becomes very important.  The challenge comes when your child loses a sense of ‘belonging to herself’. Our need to feel connected to ourselves (our autonomy) and our need to be connected with others is like a see-saw. Both parts are necessary and the balance will only be kept if it’s firmly grounded in unconditional love.

When you get the first ‘teenage rumbles’ rather than resort to ‘Because I said so’ or caving in, focus on seeing these as opportunities to help the child keep connected with herself and her values and to learn to negotiate with you.

Worth Your child needs to know that nothing she does can add to or take away from her intrinsic worth.  When she knows this she’ll know you are the ones to turn to when life’s uncertain.

When your child has a self esteem stool with three strong legs of confidence, belonging and worth, she has a stable base to deal with the challenges of teenagehood.

Our children are already born with incredible potential to beautiful, wise, creative, compassionate, wonderful people.

It’s our job as parents to create conditions for them to thrive. 

You’ll discover more insights and practical tools in my CD                                                         ‘Helping Your Child Cope in the Real World’.  Also available as MP3.

Helpful books on this topic:

Your Competent Child Jesper Juul

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families   Stephen Covey

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls Mary Pipher

Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood William Pollack

 

 

Last edited January 17th 2012

A Young Mother’s Experience:

I was aware that something was wrong when Hannah was 24 hours old. On being discharged from the hospital we had been given a checklist of symptoms that required immediate contact with the hospital. In the past 6 hours Hannah’s nappies had become offensive to anyone with a nose in the surrounding neighbourhood! Following the hospital’s instructions we made contact. I explained our concern, the midwife remembered me:

“Oh yes, you were the mummy that was very reluctant to leave the hospital.”

I reminded her that we were discharged before my daughter was even 11 hours old.

“Well don’t worry mum, some babies are just smelly.”

So we commenced 5 months of life with a very smelly baby. Unfortunately, further symptoms developed over coming weeks. Hannah became very unsettled, appearing in constant pain, bringing her legs up to her stomach and screaming for hours, then entire days, and nights. We raised this with the health visitor and whilst I suggested the possibility of a dairy allergy, reflux was diagnosed. As I was breastfeeding, Hannah was prescribed an antacid several times a day. There was no improvement. A stronger drug was then prescribed at the maximum dose, with no improvement.

At 12 weeks we attended a vaccination clinic on a Tuesday. Following yet another sleepless night and 6 hours of constant screaming, we arrived late. Hannah continued to scream, unperturbed that we were in a public place. The other parents patiently waiting with their content babies insisted we go first, even though we arrived last, as Hannah was obviously distressed. I felt uncomfortable about jumping the queue and nonchalantly stated we were fine to wait, Hannah was always like this. Unbeknown to me, the Health Visitor was standing behind me. She asked me to come through to the clinic and then asked if Hannah really was always like this. Stunned, I looked at her and replied

“Of course she is, I told you this.”

“Tell me again” she said.

Hannah’s dose was doubled.

That Friday the Health Visitor called to the house. Hannah had been awake most of the night and had been screaming since around 8am. It was now midday. The Health Visitor offered to hold her, trying everything to calm Hannah down. Nothing worked. A small part of me felt elated. The Health Visitor left after an hour, advising she would arrange an urgent appointment with a paediatrician for further medication.

The following Tuesday I waited outside the paediatrician’s office at the hospital. Hannah was in fabulous form, content to sit and watch the activity of the hospital. The paediatrician called us in to his office. Without even a glance at Hannah he turned to me and said:

“I have just one question for you, how does she feed?”

Having prepared myself to share all of Hannah’s symptoms, I grappled to answer his question.

“Her feeding is starting to improve.”

Before I could finish my response the paediatrician whipped out a Dictaphone and started dictating his notes, which included a diagnosis of “so called silent reflux” and “mother has been advised to burp baby regularly throughout the bottle”. Stunned at his rudeness I interrupted to advise that Hannah was not bottle-fed. He resumed his dictation with the correction to breast feeding. He then rose to his feet, opened the door, signalling the consultation was complete. I stood, then asked if Hannah should continue her medication or if that would be altered, he advised me to discontinue it, as it wasn’t necessary. I asked if she could have a dairy allergy as my brother had one. “Of course not,” he replied. Concerned I then asked him what I was meant to do as Hannah screamed each day. He turned to me and patted my shoulder, saying:

“This may sound patronising, but sometimes mummy just can’t fix it. I’ll review Hannah in 3 weeks at my other office. In case you’re wondering why I didn’t see you there today, it’s because I’ve afforded you twice as much time here today than I can there.”

We left his office in under 4 minutes.

Hannah was prescribed  a different drug the following week through the Health Visitor. There was some improvement. Exhausted and overwhelmed, in mid December my husband and I agreed we would reluctantly start giving Hannah a bottle at night to allow me the chance to get a few hours sleep. Hannah became increasingly worse. I telephoned the GP’s office the minute they re-opened after Christmas. The GP listened to my concerns then said he was unwilling to prescribe anything more until she was examined. He squeezed us in that day, and asked me to share all of Hannah’s symptoms, no matter how insignificant they appeared. Relieved I told him everything: the nappies, diarrhoea, difficulties feeding, constant screaming, vomiting, eczema, and now the raspy breathing and wheezing. The GP asked what I thought was wrong, I said I thought it may be a dairy allergy as my brother had one. The GP agreed and said we needed to immediately remove all dairy from her diet and mine.

Within 48 hours Hannah had transformed. She was smiling, content, cuddly and for the first time taking in her surroundings and exploring her body. I knew from the first day there was something wrong. Within weeks I had identified what it was. However, I handed my trust over to the professionals, and in the process forgot to trust my instinct, and have the confidence to assert that when it comes to my daughter, I am the expert.

Used with permission

Note from Val:  We encourage you to always seek medical advice if you are concerned about your child’s health. But remember that you as parent intuitively know your child. Ensure that medical practitioners are listening to your experience and your concern.

Last edited March 11th 2011

Anita’s song captures all our mothering worries, whether we say them out loud or if they’re the thoughts chasing through our heads.

‘Are you sick? Are you well?’

Mothers seem to be programmed to be continually asking questions about the child’s welfare.

You’d think Anita’s talking to a two year old.

We forget these questions may be about our need and not helpful for the child .

Keep listening to her verbal torrent in her three minute ‘Mum Song’ rant- this is obviously a much older child.

Anita’s tumbled into a parent trap.

If we ignore the developmental stage of the child we’re ignoring what they most need.

Quentin Blake’s ‘Zagazoo‘ is a fabulous book for a light-hearted look at developmental stages –a parenting book disguised as a child’s book! What’s helpful for the toddler or the preschooler is not necessarily appreciated by the child as s/he becomes more competent. Result – frustration on both sides.

Be aware of your child’s level of development. When we give instructions and comments that are past their ‘sell-by-date’   we’re throwing verbal garbage at our children.

Check through your daily interactions.

What space could open up in your relationship if you put a plug in your verbosity?

Last edited September 02nd 2010

‘Don’t talk so loud.’

It’s an interesting thing. Our brains are geared to hear action words.

So the ‘don’t’ isn’t heard.

The ‘talk loud’ is – and most probably will be acted out.

It’s much more helpful to give your child an instruction of what you DO want.

Rather than  ‘Don’t run’ say ‘Walk.’

Rather than ‘Don’t stand in front of the TV,’ tell   your child  what he can do. Ideally give a choice. (‘Come and sit with me and watch TV or go play over there.’)

This is also important to remember at times like a visit to the dentist.

Don’t cry,’ might well cause floodgates.

Rather refocus your child’s  attention,

‘Think about your breathing. In –out – in,’

or ‘Think of a happy place you’d like to be right now.’

These are likely to be a better support to your child, especially if your own body language, eye contact and tone of voice are calm.

Watch your language. Catch your negatives and rephrase them as positives.

Make a mental note of the difference in your child’s response.

I’d love to hear your examples and  feedback.

Last edited September 03rd 2012

Parent Contradicts

What effect does it have on children when they receive conflicting messages?

Anita Renfroe’s ‘Mum Song‘ captures our ludicrousness with her opposing instructions: the child must chew her food slowly and  hurry.

It makes us smile as parents.

But inconsistencies are frustrating and confusing to children and sometimes damaging to their self-esteem.

And often the incongruity isn’t so blatantly obvious.

‘I love you,’ says the Parent without making eye contact or any other warm connection.

‘You know I love you.’ –‘Don’t bother me.’

‘Do what you’re told.’ –‘Can’t you think for yourself.’

Are your children getting mixed messages from you? (Not only with your words – but what about your body language or way of being with them?)

What impact might this be having on your children?

What is the message you really want them to get?

What could you do differently that would be more helpful?

“When a child has no doubt about your love and admiration of him, his contentment is the ground on which he can succeed in his endeavors. He will be able to act on his own behalf authentically …” Naomi  : the child must chew her food slowly but must hurry., Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves 2006, p. 43

Last edited June 04th 2010

Today in “The Guardian” Zoe Williams is fed up with the clashes of  parenting ‘gurus’.

Parenting is tough enough without this type of “’dagger-on-a thread’ hectoring”.

Here’s my different, and potentially more helpful perspective.

Parent Coaching provides parents with a support person (either on a one-to-one or in a group context) and trusts that you, the parent is the expert on your own situation.

In Koemba we  talk about the ‘contuitive parent’ – the parent who uses both their conscious awareness of what is helpful in the particular context together with trusting their own intuition, ( hence ‘con-tuition‘ ).

Trust your intuition – that inner sense of what your child  really needs. We have parented successfully for generations. We wouldn’t have survived as a human race if we didn’t know how.

Combine this with your conscious knowledge and you have what is needed to successfully nurture your children at both a physical and emotional level.

Yes –  be open to new learning. Neuroscience has discovered more about how the brain works in the last decade than in the whole of human history.

It makes sense that if we know how the brain functions we will also know what is needed for young brains to thrive.

Think about the language we use – the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent or ‘good’ parenting-  infers that there’s also ‘bad’ parenting. As Zoe says, parents have enough stress already – so let’s avoid the judgemental language (unless we’re talking about abuse). Try substituting with the question ‘Is what I’m doing helpful?’ When we use non-judgemental language we can figure out what’s working for our own individual children and our families.

I invite you to replace ‘should’ with ‘could’. e.g.  ‘I should be … ‘  changes to ‘I could …’

Once we recognise we have choices we’re no longer helpless victims but contuitive parents who can meet our children’s needs.

Last edited April 22nd 2010