Remember the days when the family phone hung on a wall in the kitchen? Remember the days of there being a family phone at all? Teenagers today only know of the accessibility of their own cell phones camping in their back pockets, which communicate to several people at once in ways unimaginable 20 years ago.
Plenty of factors have changed today’s society, influencing the way teens behave and expanding the things they are exposed to. Technology, social media and peer pressure can be hard during adolescence — for the teen and the parents. Ames Living talked to four sets of parents about the challenges and adjustments they are facing while raising teenagers as society continues to present obstacles. Parents in Ames explain what works for them — and what doesn’t.
Technology and freedom
Cheryl and Joe Baumgarten moved from the East Coast to Ames; the quality of the schools and safety in the community for their son, Alex, drew them to the town. While the Baumgartens feel Alex is safe in his physical environment, they know they can’t fully control his exposure to things like bullying and violence via social media, online games and other applications enabled by technology and the Internet.
“So many of the applications that are available today are almost impossible to monitor or filter,” Cheryl says. “This makes it hard for us to feel like we are protecting him fully.”
Cheryl and Joe have parental controls in place when Alex, 14, is on the Internet at home, but they wonder about what he can be exposed to when he is using the internet elsewhere. Cheryl feels the accessibility can put a stress on the teen/parent relationship because, as parents, they feel the need to control and limit exposure to some content.
“They have access to so much more information at a much younger age than we did growing up,” Cheryl says. “We are challenged to find a good balance between giving him the access that he wants and keeping him safe.”
The Baumgartens have also had pleasant surprises as Alex reached his teen years. Cheryl and Joe stress family and religious values, and they expect Alex to give back to the community by volunteering. From snowboarding and other sports to musical instruments, Alex keeps a busy schedule, which his parents are proud of.
“While we are very proud of Alex and who he is as a teenager, we don’t always see eye to eye on every lesson we try to teach him,” Cheryl says. “We do our best to work out our differences as a family and usually find ways to make even the toughest lessons seem bearable.”
We turn into our parents
Tina and Mark Hansen believe they were fortunate to agree early on in their child-rearing skills. The couple says they were raised similarly, which has come through in the way they have raised their own children. When their kids — Gabrielle, 19, and Colby, 18 — became teenagers, Tina and Mark found themselves sounding much like their own parents.
“I hear my parents’ words of advice come out of my mouth a lot more these days,” Tina says. “Sometimes I stop and think to myself, ‘Did I just say that?’ I guess to some degree we really do turn into our parents.”
Tina and Mark enforced a midnight curfew for the kids in high school, as both of their parents had reminded them, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”
“I remember saying to my parents that my friends didn’t have an early curfew or they were allowed to do this or that,” Tina says. “Again I hear in my head, ‘We aren’t those kids’ parents!’ It’s an age-old battle.”
The curfew may have made Tina and Mark unpopular with their kids at times, but as the kids get older, Tina sees the appreciation coming around.
“I think they appreciate how they were raised, especially the older they get,” Tina says. “Hopefully they will understand that there was a method to our madness.”
The peer pressure hasn’t vanished as society has changed, but it is different. Being in agreement on raising Gabby and Colby and taking what worked from their own parents has helped Tina and Mark to defeat societal pressure about parenting. Not only do the teenagers suffer from peer pressure, but parents are also faced with the pressure and judgement of other parents. Mark and Tina feel parents do not have to justify to their peers about how a situation was handled.
“Every family has their own normal,” Mark says. “I think families need to figure out what works for them and not worry how others perceive them.”
Spending time at home
Kris and Del Johnston are firm believers that their teenagers need to spend some time at home. The family lives on an acreage, and the kids are all involved in showing pigs, goats, sheep and chickens in addition to sports and youth groups.
“I don’t think we’re as busy as most families can be,” Kris says. “We like to have time at home with the kids.”
With the temptations of peer pressure teens are faced with, Kris and Del feel that spending time at home with their kids allows them to get a sense of who they are.
“We often just hang at the dinner table, and we have fun as a family at home,” Kris says. “Because of that, they know what is true to have fun and, hopefully, they remember that when they’re faced with peer pressure.”
Their kids are at varying ages of adolesence. Will is 13, Elizabeth 16, and they have already survived one teenage cycle, as Kelli is 20. Kris and Del remember their friends warning them as the children were growing up how rebellious they would be as teenagers, but they are actually enjoying this phase of their children’s lives.
“We have really good kids,” Kris says. “We like how they’re unraveling into people, becoming who they are as individuals.”
Of course, there are still challenges. The phones in their pockets make it trickier for Kris and Del to be vigilant. The parents have faced problems with other kids in which they had to make phone calls to other parents; and since Kris and her 13-year-old are both strong-willed, the fight to win can be unrelenting.
Open and honest
Tammy and Phil Stegman try to be open with their daughters, Josie, 16; and Jenna, 13; about everything, in hopes that the girls will feel comfortable being open with them in return.
“It might be embarassing for them at times, and we know they’re not going to open up to us about everything,” Tammy says.
Tammy and Phil see the smart phones and the Internet as challenging obstacles, in addition to handling Josie’s greater freedom when she got her driver’s license this winter.
“A lot has changed since I was growing up,” Tammy says. “If someone called when I was growing up, you answered the phone on the wall and everyone in the house knew you were on the phone. Now they just go to their rooms with the phone or they’re texting. We’re not always able to monitor what they’re doing. As a society, we’re all dealing with it. As a parent, it’s something to be aware of.”
In stressing openness and honesty, Tammy and Phil enforce rules — they ask the girls not to be in their rooms on their phones all night, to put the phones away while doing homework and to let them see their phones if they ask. As they are the ones paying for the phones, they believe these rules are fair.
“That’s the ideal world,” Tammy says with a laugh. “These are the things we say, but it’s not always like that.”
Although they encourage open communication, Phil says it can be tricky. Not because Josie and Jenna are teens, but because they are both girls.
“There are some conversations I just have to stay out of,” Phil says.
Tammy and Phil think the girls are going through a natural developmental stage in which their friends are the priority.
“I believe our two girls are exactly where I was when I was a teen,” Tammy says. “At 13 and 16, I didn’t think my parents were cool.”
Tammy says her relationship with her parents is different now, and she feels her girls will come back around as they get older.
“Both of us are conscientious that they need their space,” Tammy says. “We try not to take it personally.”
As the girls go through this stage, Tammy and Phil stress that they still have to be respectful of them as parents.
“We tell them they can’t talk bad about their parents,” Tammy says. “Don’t yell at us, and if we need your help, it’s not okay to stomp around.”
Raising teenagers may not get any easier as society continues to change, but those cell phones — once despised — will be much more appreciated when the kids go away to college and leave the nest, as they are still only a text or phone call away.