Manual not included
Many parents have thought at one time or another how much easier it would be if kids came with an owner’s manual. Parental wisdom doesn’t just happen. Parents often feel like they are figuring things out as they go. About the time parents think they have child rearing down pat, the children enter their teen years. These are the most challenging, anxious years of all, for both parents and teens. As teens transition away from complete dependence on their parents, everything changes. They have identities and ideas of their own and, often, an overwhelming urgency to race toward adulthood. A parent’s job is to help them get there, ready, safe and sound.
Michele and Kevin Bultena of Webster City are the parents of two teenagers —Cassidy, 16 and Tyler, 14. They are endeavoring to raise two happy, healthy teens grounded in moral principals based on a solid foundation of faith.
Their underlying philosophy, along with love and common sense, sets the standard. It is not by coincidence that this approach puts into practice many of the best suggestions the experts offer for raising teens.
“I think we tended to be on the strict side when they were younger and as they grew, we gave them more freedom and stretched the boundaries out a little bit, with them understanding that we had the right to look at their phone or the movies they watched, or whatever,” says Michele. By making the ground rules clear, they have all tried to stay on the same page.
As parents, the Bultenas have set some rules.
“We’ve generally agreed on things, like social media or computer access,” says Kevin.
“We’ve kind of come from the same direction, so it’s never been an issue for us,” adds Michele.
And he gives his parents the kind of credit some kids are never able to acknowledge.
“They’ve lived through most of it before when they were teens, so they know the smarter thing to do in the long run,” he says. “Not just about what’s happening right now.”
Both teens seem to know which parent is most approachable, depending on the situation and agreed they usually all get along and communicate well.
Michele admits she sometimes gets a little more “excited” in her response to things, while Kevin stays a little calmer and gets all the facts.
“He tends to give them the benefit of the doubt first,” Michele says.
As with most things, finding a good balance is the goal. While Michele appreciates cell phones and texting in this digital age, she also has concerns about things like Twitter and Facebook.
They’ve talked to Tyler about “facetime” and communicating with friends at appropriate times.
The effect that social media has on a child’s self esteem is concerning.
“I think in our society it’s hard for them to maintain self-esteem. They’re always being torn down by the social community in general,” says Michele. “It’s hard as a parent to try to encourage self-esteem because there is a lot going against them.”
And over-sharing is also a big concern.
“I don’t think they always realize what they put out there is permanent,” Kevin says. “So that’s something we’ve talked about a lot with our kids. What they text and what they post is out there and can be checked by everybody, not just friends.
“It could impact on their future years down the line, when they go to get a job. At their age, right now, it’s important they realize that,” Michele says.
They have had this talk, and many other talks as well, about the risks kids face today.
“ They probably know what I’m going to say before I say it,” Kevin explains. “I know you know this. but I’m going to tell you anyway. If you are in a situation that’s not good, then you have to get yourself away.”
“If they feel threatened in any way, let us know, or a good friend or their parents,” Michele adds.
So far, the teens have never found themselves in that kind of a situation, according to Cassidy.
“It’s not really a situation we’ve come up against,” she says. “And both of us kind of stand our ground.”
Both teens have earned their parents’ trust because they have made good decisions, according to Michele and Kevin.
“They have earned trust. But they also know they are fair game. We are going to keep tabs on what’s going on. We are not naive,” Kevin says.
“Keeping tabs and checking in is something we’ve established along the line,” Michlle says. “They check in with us, where they are. That’s something I did when I was a kid. I never had a curfew. I learned quickly I earned my parents trust as long as they knew where I was.”
By middle school, the Bultenas started to appreciate the benefits of their children having cell phones.
“They’ll get in the car and check in and say ‘We’re headed home.’ That’s the big advantage of texting,” Michele says
“We’ve discussed consequences much more on a global basis,” says Kevin. “It’s not just things like if you miss your curfew, you’ll be grounded for a week. It’s if you make a bad choice driving it may be a life altering consequence.”
Trying to maintain busy schedules can sometimes be stressful, Cassidy admits. With school activities, church groups and sports, there are many times the teens are gone by 6:30 a.m. and not home until 7 or 8 p.m.
“By the end of the week, I kind of feel like being with my family,” Cassidy says. “Read, nap, watch a movie — just really down time.”
“Our kids, by the time they get home, have supper, do homework, their time is so restricted during the week,” Michele says.
Neither Tyler nor Cassidy want to disappoint their parents. Tyler says it makes him happy when everyone around him is happy. If he does something that disappoints his parents and makes them down in the dumps, life isn’t great at that moment.
Cassidy adds that while she does not want to disappoint her parents, her greater motivation comes from her faith and trying to live her life in keeping with her belief, showing the love she feels from God.
“That’s the foundation,” Michele says. “We try to give them what they need without spoiling them. But showing them that life is not always about us. It’s about serving others. That we don’t get so involved in our own activities that we forget that.
“ My hope is that they wake up each day and feel happy and loved and that they have the skills to meet the goals they have set for themselves. And to know that the most important things in life come from God.
Michele recalls the “have it all” advice she got when she was younger; that a woman could have a career and also have children.
“Kids have to come first and everything tries to push them away,” she says. “Kids have to come first.” To that end, the family tries to connect every day.
“We definitely try to plan to do things together each week,” she says. “We go to church, go to ball games, things like that; family oriented things, so we always reconnect.”
Staying connected, sharing at least one meal a day — although that isn’t always possible — and finding things everyone enjoys is key, according to Michele.
“One of our favorite things to do as a family is to just get in the car and go,” she says.
While the family takes trips together, they also enjoy things as simple as riding bikes or playing basketball. Michele stressed how important creating time for the family to be together is.
“It has to be intentional,” she says. Tyler agreed.
“I think to spend time with your family and just laugh a lot, that really feels good, he says.
When asked if he thought Mom and Dad gave good advise, Tyler looked at his parents and thoughtfully said, “I don’t think they’d give us bad advise,” and laughed.
The whole family laughed. They seem to do a lot of that.