Kids today…It’s a phrase that parents have been uttering for decades, make that centuries, or perhaps eons.
In particular, teenagers.
There isn’t a grandparent around who hasn’t chuckled at his or her own offspring as they meet the balancing act of the teenage years with their children.
In many ways, a balancing act is an apt description for the relationship between teens and parents as the next generation finds its way in this world. They can be years of great moments — high school graduation, prom nights — and great disappointment —struggling grades and, well, prom nights.
Frankly, anyone who says the teen years are the best years of a person’s life may have forgotten how hard those years can be for teenagers… and their parents.
Boone High School Counselor Brian Bloem sees every day the challenges that confront today’s generation of young people.
Bloem graduated from high school before there were such things as texting or Facebook, and it was mostly unheard of to even have a computer in the home. Today’s kids would call those times “the dark ages.”
“I’ve asked myself, if you suddenly plopped my high school class of 1983 into the class of 2015, would we be the same? How would we do?,” Bloem says.
It would be interesting to score each generation according to what is known as the “40 Developmental Assets.”
“When we look at the 40 Developmental Assets, the more of these assets that children have growing up, the better off they are supposedly going to be,” Bloem notes.
As characterized by the Search Institute, the assets include such things as family support, positive family communication, a caring school climate, and even a caring neighborhood.
Feeling safe is another major asset for children, but so is service to others. Positive peer influence is an asset, as well as high expectations. Being part of a religious community is an asset, and even time at home and reading for pleasure are measurable assets for teenagers. A downloadable list of all the assets is available at www.search-institute.org for parents who want to measure the assets that they enjoyed as teenagers compared to those their own children now enjoy.
But what does it all really mean for parents when they are juggling a job, or two jobs, or no job at all, as well as family, home and community in a finite number of hours every week?
For parents, in many ways, the answer to helping their teens safely navigate their way to adulthood is the same, even if the technology is different.
“Stay involved,” Bloem emphasizes.
Parents of teenagers sometimes need that reminder even more than parents of toddlers and young children. For as a child grows, he or she will naturally seek and need more independence, but at the same time the need for guidance also grows.
“There’s going to be a point when parents think their child is reaching independence, and the parents don’t think they’re needed as much, but that doesn’t let you off the hook,” Bloem says. “It might mean your role changes.”
In other words, being the parent of a teenager takes finesse.
“I think the emphasis should be changing the roles,” he explains. “With little children, you make their decisions for them. Now you need to help them make decisions for themselves.”
Bloem recommends laying out choices and asking pointed questions,thus helping teens discern the result of those choices before they act.
“Give them choices, but keep a hand in the decisions, and have an interest in the decisions,” he says.
For many families, technology is one of the main challenges they face. Bloem and his wife, Janell, have two children: a son who is 13 and a daughter who is 10. They’ve made a rule in their family that the kids cannot be on Facebook until they are 13. Bloem admits that the rule has sometimes been a challenge to enforce, but they stayed with it because they saw the value in that decision. He adds that it may not be the right choice for every family, but it has worked for them.
“In my family, it’s also a condition that to have Facebook, you have to be on there not only with Mom and Dad, but also with Grandma and Grandpa,” he says.
Adding grandparents in to the mix is a way of uniting family values over generational lines. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all remind children of where they come from and the values that unite them.
“If you’re going to have a lifestyle that’s different than what we expect of you, then you’re probably not going to want to do that in front of Grandma,” Bloem notes.
Of course, it’s not always a challenge. The teen years can also be filled with excitement and anticipation of the future. Bloem particularly enjoys meeting with students to help them discover what it is they want to do with their lives.
“There’s some kids who really know what they want to, and some that have no idea or who have too many ideas of what they want to do,” he says.
Using the high school years to explore the possibilities can help graduates get off to a good start in the world.
“More and more the emphasis is on using high school to do some of that exploratory stuff,” he says. “We encourage them to explore, but not to commit.”
By taking a variety of classes, students might learn just as much by discovering what they don’t want to do.
“It’s even healthy if they find out they don’t like something so they can eliminate that from their choices,” he adds.Most of all, Bloem seeks to be an ear for his students, recognizing that teens and families each have different assets and different challenges.
Fellow Boone High School Counselor Megan McIntyre has a few years to go before her children reach the challenging teens. McIntyre and her husband, Marty, have two children, ages 5 and 3, but they are each already in a position to witness the unique skills needed by parents of teenagers.
Marty McIntyre is the juvenile court officer for Boone County and sees firsthand some of the toughest challenges that teens and their parents face. For her part at Boone High School, Megan McIntyre works with students who run the gamut of every ability, every gift and every need.
“Getting kids involved seems to be a big thing,” to help them cope and help them succeed, Mrs. McIntyre says. “Kids that are in a lot of extra-curricular activities tend to have better attendance, better grades and generally stay out of some of the situations that lead to trouble.”
For parents, the key is often to help the student discover his or her own niche in school.
“Whether it’s an academic niche or an extra-curricular niche, I think that’s really important,” she says.
Parents must also remember that teenagers need to find what’s right for them. Just because Dad was a football player or Mom was in band doesn’t mean those activities are right for their children. It may be that the next generation will find its own interest in drama or a host of other activities.
“Sometimes kids feel too much pressure,” McIntyre notes. “Parents and teens have to find that mix so that they’re not feeling bombarded by things, but feel supported and encouraged to find their own niche — something that is their own and is not forced upon them.”
Bullying is also a concern in today’s world, and McIntyre cautions that it can be difficult to detect, so parents need to be attuned to subtle changes that may indicate something is amiss.
“I would like to say that their child will tell them when they’re being bullied, but a lot of times that’s not the case,” she says.
Parents must listen when a student doesn’t want to go to school and try to detect if there’s a hidden reason. A change in appetite, eating less or suddenly eating more, can also be a clue that something is wrong. Not wanting to hang out with friends can also be a clue.
What it boils down to, according to McIntyre is communication. Make a point to eliminate distractions, if only for a few minutes each day, in order to talk to each child. By communicating when things are going well, it makes it easier for a child to speak up when things aren’t going well.
Facebook is no replacement for face to face, and texting is no replacement for shooting the breeze.
“I think it’s really important with today’s technology to keep those lines of communication open, not just going through technology to know what they’re doing,” McIntyre says.
Some parents even have a rule that they will exchange no more than three consecutive texts with teenagers. After that, it’s time to forget the keyboard and remember that phones were made for talking.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” McIntyre says. “It’s really important to just be involved in their lives.”