The teenage years are a time of hectic schedules, body changes, hormones, high emotions, a desire for more independence, peer pressures, important decisions and, often, a time when kids decide to retreat internally and pull away from their parents.
But regardless of what it happening, parents say the key to maintaining relationships with their teen and playing an active role in their lives starts with good communication.
“We’ve tried to communicate,” says Jenny Felt of Adel, a mother of three. “We talk to them. We know who their friends are. That’s been a bonus, and I think that’s helped in raising them.
“I think the majority of it has been those open lines of communication,” she continues. “They’re worth a lot. And stay involved in your kid’s life. Know what they’re doing and who they’re hanging with.”
Erin Merschman of Adel agrees communication is vital.
“You need to figure out how you talk to your kids to know what’s going on,” she says. “You can’t pretend to think things aren’t going on. You can’t pull a blinder over drinking and think it doesn’t happen in high school. You have to talk about it, and the stresses of the Internet — what are they searching, what are they finding.”
“It’s a different kind of stress from raising a toddler or a baby,” Erin continues. She and husband, Alan, have four children: Kelsey, 20, who is in college; Abby, 18, a senior at Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School; Jacob, 14, a freshman at A-D-M; and Joel, 9, a third-grader.
With communicating, comes listening and learning there is a time when your teens will want to talk and be more open.
“When they do open up, you listen to them and let them talk and don’t ask a lot of questions,” Jenny Felt says, admitting that her husband, David, is better at that than she is. “As a mom, I get my feathers ruffled, and I tend to pry. Dave is always like ‘They’ll come around,’ and then they do.”
Erin Merschman says she’s found the greatest success in talking to her kids when they’re doing an activity together such as the dishes, cleaning horse stalls or even in the car — any time they have not had to look at her directly.
“When they have to look at you, they don’t want to talk.” she says. “They don’t always want to talk. Sometimes, I’ve even said to them ‘I’m here when you’re ready to talk. And when you’re ready, I don’t care what it is, I’m here with open ears and open arms.’ Sometimes they need to process things first, but if you push too hard sometimes they’ll back away.”
The Merschmans have talked to their kids about everything — drinking, drugs, premarital sex, the dangers of the Internet, bullying and more.
“They’ll sometimes roll their eyes, but then sometimes later on in conversation they’ll say something and you’ll think ‘Oh, they were listening to me,’ ” Erin Merschman says.
Families try to instill good values in children from an early age
The Merschmans have tried to create a home life where their children feel grounded and accepted regardless of any mistakes they may make along the way. Once a week they make sure they have a family night where they all eat dinner together and play games.
“It’s good for families to have fun and laugh, too,” Erin Merschman says.
David and Jenny Felt’s three children have always been kept busy with chores and other responsibilities, which the couple thinks have helped steer them away from trouble, especially societal pressures.
“We’ve always tried to show them right from wrong and tell them life is all about choices, so right now make the right choice,” David Felt says. “We show them examples of what could happen if you make the wrong choice, and that what might seem like a good idea in the short run is not in the long run.”
The Felts’ three children are Mackenzie, 20, a sophomore at Indian Hills Community College; Marissa, 17, a senior at Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School; and Cody, 11, a sixth-grader.
The Felt children also have daily chores that keep them busy. They must tend to livestock before and after school and perform other tasks. The older two also have been involved with Future Farmers of America and had early morning meetings in Earlham every couple of weeks.
“I guess they always knew if they did something they weren’t supposed to do and got caught, the consequences would far outweigh the fun,” David Felt says.
Erin Merschman says her family has taken a similar approach when it comes to drinking and being proactive. Her kids are involved in sports and other activities, and the school penalties are stiff enough that it also discourages drinking or other mischief. The Merschmans also ask their children where they are and who they’re with and have told them what to do if they’re in a situation where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
“They know they can call us and have us come get them at any time, no questions asked,” Erin says.
Jenny Felt, who is a social worker with the Iowa Department of Human Services, says she feels relieved to not have a lot of the issues with her own children that she sees at work.
“We’ve been fortunate because we have good kids,” she says. “I honestly believe we have good kids. I didn’t have the worries. They’re headstrong, and they’re your typical teen. They’ll try anything, but we’re pretty quick to figure it out. We stay one step ahead of them.”
Teen emotions, issues start to surface in junior high; continue with high school pressures
Erin Merschman says freshman year is a difficult one for teenagers because of the big adjustment from eighth grade to ninth grade and being in high school with older classmates. She says the girls are often “twitterpated” by the older boys and become more emotional, and the boys are going through many changes with puberty.
Issues also begin to arise with bullying as children become teenagers. Erin Merschman says if a child is made fun of at school, they come home damaged because they’ve had a bad day, which makes it even more important for them to have a home life where they are loved and accepted.
“If they get made fun of, it really goes to heart,” she says. “School can be a great place, but also hard on their self worth.”
David Felt says things change once a child receives his or her driver’s license and becomes more self-sufficient with age.
“They get busier and involved in more activities,” he says. “They are able to do things on their own.”
The Felts have always tried to encourage their children to be interested in school and involved in as many activities as they could be so the kids could get a feel for what kinds of activities or sports they liked and didn’t like and didn’t miss out on opportunities.
Jenny Felt says she saw changes occur in her daughters once boys came into the picture. The girls became quieter, but that didn’t stop their mother from doing the talking.
“I always ask questions,” she says. “I know where they are. I communicate via text.”
Parents use variety of methods to discipline children, keep them out of trouble
The Felts each have their own threat they make to their children. David Felt is in charge of the vehicles his two oldest children drive, fills them with gas and has threatened to take them away.
“He’ll say ‘I guess you can call the bus,’ ” wife, Jenny, says.
David also warns them about their activities.
“They know if they don’t keep their grades up or if they get in trouble inside or outside of school, they won’t get to participate in school activities or sports,” he says.
Jenny Felt uses the cell phones. Last month she had been blocked from Marissa’s Twitter account. She told her daughter to unblock her from the account or the cell phone would be shut off by the end of the day.
“If you’re going to be on social media, I’m going to be part of that social media, and I will be your friend,” Jenny Felt has told her children.
Jenny Felt says she also spends a lot of time in her kids’ rooms because she is the one who cleans them.
“I know where things are and where they go,” she says. “It’s hard to hide things.”
David Felt takes care of the vehicles and cleans them out, eliminating the ability to hide things in them.
The Merschmans are diligent about monitoring their teenagers’ access to technology and the Internet. The family has one computer, which is in a central location where everyone can see and use it. They monitor what their children are watching, though Erin admits it’s more difficult to control what they listen to.
The Merschmans have removed cell phones at night, so their children are not staying up texting friends. They’ve removed web browsers from cell phones to limit access to inappropriate things on the Internet.
But despite all of these efforts, Erin Merschman says communication and raising children is difficult.
“You do all you can do, and then you pray,” she says. “Prayer for us has been huge for raising our kids and telling our kids to pray when they are struggling with things. It’s given them some peace of mind.”