Altoona families share how they’re guiding their teens to become young adults
Raising teenagers is a labor of love that takes time, patience, communication and compromise.
Here, families talk about how they’re making it through what can be a very tough, but also rewarding, chapter in their children’s lives.
A solid foundation
Jeff and Jamie Cole wanted a solid foundation for their four children, so they made an intentional plan to raise them, one deeply rooted in their faith and family.
Today, they have four teenagers — Jessica, 19; JJ, 17; Jackson, 15; and Josiah, 13. The couple says they are reaping what they sowed. They are a close-knit group that likes to spend time together and are open with each other, thanks to the time, love, patience and sacrifice they invested in their kids.
They attended lots of parenting classes when the kids were younger, Jamie Cole says. They also decided to homeschool each of them until sixth grade.
“We wanted to homeschool because we felt very strongly about building family cohesiveness,” she says. “Our philosophy was if we put in our time when they’re younger, hopefully it will pay off in the future.”
“I’m just glad I was homeschooled because I developed good relationships with my brothers and parents and grandparents,” Jessica says.
Discipline was a critical part of their kids’ upbringing, says Jeff.
“We spanked them for disobedience,” he says. “We have a strong faith in God, and so we tied that together — so when they disobeyed their parents, they were disobeying God.”
After the spanking, they would have to pray and ask for forgiveness. As they got older, they obeyed more.
But more broadly, what they were trying to do was capture their children’s hearts, Jamie says, which they then hoped would lead to close relationships with them.
“I think because we got disciplined at a young age, to me, I have a lot of respect for my parents and how they raised us,” JJ says.
When the kids were younger, Jeff and Jamie spent as much time as possible with them. Jamie home-schooled the kids. Jeff, who owns a painting business, would come home, tuck the kids into bed at night and pray with them. He coached them in sports. They all worked together on their acreage and still do.
Now that the children are older, they still spend a lot of time together, but the challenges have changed.
“Once they’re teenagers,” Jeff says, “it’s more coaching and advising.”
JJ says his parents instilled strong values in him that help guide his decision-making today. For example, when friends at a lunch table were making inappropriate comments that he didn’t agree with, he talked to his mom about what he should do. JJ eventually decided to move to another table.
But, as with any family, they’re not perfect. There’s the attitude and disagreements, and the teenage eye-rolling and head-tossing.
Jeff tells his kids to never lie to him and Jamie; no matter what they’ve done, they’ll love them and make things right. And when they as parents mess up, they ask their kids for forgiveness.
For parents struggling in their relationships with their kids, Jeff has this advice: Start over.
“Start with a clean slate,” he says. “Ask for forgiveness, and hopefully they do, too. All you can do is love them, love them, love them.”
Communication, compromise, love
Heather and John Schonkaes are raising two teenagers who have very different needs. They’re making it work with communication, patience, compromise and a tag-team approach.
“The biggest advice I have is to build a relationship with the kids,” says Heather Schonkaes. “Talk with them. Know their hopes, dreams, meet and talk with their friends, listen to their music (even just a little or sometimes), discuss what they are reading, what they think about school.”
John Schonkaes says he’s learned that patience and unconditional love are paramount.
“If I can be more patient with my teens and work with them, and let them work some things out on their own, that tends to be a lot better for everybody,” he says.
The Schonkaeses have four children, including Tim, 15; and Kaitlyn, 13.
Tim has been asserting his independence with how he wears his hair and his clothes. Heather says they compromised on both, asking their son to shorten the length of his hair, but letting him keep it longer on top. He’s able to wear ripped jeans to school, but has to wear nicer clothes to church and special events.
With Kaitlyn, it’s been a matter of addressing her mood swings, friendships and the “drama,” Heather says. Kaitlyn has heard other kids threaten to commit suicide if a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them, or cut themselves if someone refuses to be their friend.
To cope, Kaitlyn talks to her mom and a school counselor, and likes listening to punk rock and painting. Heather encourages her to take a break from her phone and Facebook.
John says their best coping mechanism has been tag-team parenting. When one parent isn’t making progress with a child or is getting frustrated, the other parent steps in. But it helps to be on the same page when you do that, Heather says.
“We text each other a lot during the day just to keep each other apprised of what’s going on,” she says.
Tim and Kaitlyn say their parents do a good job of hearing them out.
“My parents do a very good job about sitting down and listening to what I have to say, if I need to say anything,” Tim says. “They won’t just blow me off.”
Kaitlyn says she can talk to her mom about pretty much anything and vent to her.
“I like that she tries to calm me down when I start yelling or crying,” she says.
They say society is the biggest challenge facing teenagers.
“The toughest part is definitely the mold that society has put us into,” Tim says. “It seems that we are expected to be a certain way, when all of us are different.”
“Strangers may judge you and assume certain things about you and then spread those hurtful or untrue things on social media,” Kaitlyn says.
Someone once told John that parenthood is akin to war, a constant battlefield filled with mines and pitfalls.
“It’s not like that every day, but it can be like that,” says John, a church pastor. “Put your trust in the Lord, and keep moving forward with them.”
Open, honest communication
Time is a precious commodity for the Christensen family.
Having six kids — four of them teenagers — who are in activities much of the year means busy evenings, late dinners and lots of driving. Despite their hectic schedules, Sherry and Jeff Christensen say they work hard to make time for their kids — whether it’s talking in the car or eating dinner together.
Open communication is key, both with their kids and between themselves. Though the two are divorced, they talk every day and have formed a unified front in raising their children, Sherry Christensen says.
“I think that’s something we have done really well is open communication between the houses,” she says.
They have high standards for themselves as parents and for their kids, which has taught their children to set high expectations for themselves, Sherry says. Their strong relationships with their children have taken persistence, honesty, humility and sacrifice.
It began when the children were babies. They made the decision that at least one parent would be at home with them in the morning and afternoon, says Sherry, who greets the kids after school.
“I’m sure I could make a ton more money if I was working in the afternoon, too,” she says. “But that will come later, when the kids get older. I want to be there for them.”
Tate, 19, and a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa, says his parents’ lighthearted nature helps when talking to them.
“I guess it’s easy because they both have a sense of humor, and we joke around back and forth and pick on each other a little bit,” he says.
Tate and his brother, Korte, 17, say they like that their parents treat them like adults.
“They give me a few choices and they know I’ll make the best decision for myself,” says Korte. “They tell me what they would do, but leave it up to me. I feel like we’re on the same level, and I can tell them whatever.”
For example, he sought out his mom’s advice on how to deal with close friends who were making decisions contrary to his values. He eventually cut ties with them, which was sad, but probably for the best, he says.
Jeff Christensen says parents must be proactive in sharing their values with their kids, including talking about topics like sex, drinking and drugs. Parents have to take advantage of any opportunity to talk to their teens, even if it’s five minutes in the car or at the dinner table.
“If you’re having these talks with your kids about these tough topics, then more than likely they won’t fall to those pressures when they’re in that situation — you hope,” Jeff says.
Sherry is straightforward and honest with their children, sharing her own youthful missteps and owning up to her wrongdoings.
“Because if I can admit when I’m wrong, then they’ll see that I’m human, and they’ll be more willing to admit when they’re wrong,” she says. “It just makes it easier to talk things through, instead of getting through heated arguments.”