In a past blog post, Annie Nau compared the trials of parenting to an exercise in resourcefulness.
“You do what you think is right and hope for the best,” she writes. “Mistakes are made a lot, but every once in a while you surprise yourself with some brilliant piece of wisdom… or you realize your kids are becoming the kinds of people you would want to keep company with. If they weren’t your kids, they’d be your friend.”
Annie’s stance? Her No. 1 priority is being the parent first and enforcing consequences when a child’s choices cause harm or rules are broken. She and her husband, Rev. Joel Nau, are busy navigating through the teenage years with their 15-year-old daughter, Bekah, and 17-year-old son, Sam.
With both teens heavily involved in activities such as marching band, jazz band, choir, debate and singing lessons—Joel says it’s a challenge to make sure everyone arrives at their scheduled destination.
“It seems we are always running 10 minutes late,” he laughs.
For Bekah, dealing with the strain of extracurricular activities and hobbies has become second nature.
“I get stressed a lot, mostly because of my music and singing,” she explains.
She says she’s able to handle it however, because she’s doing what she loves.
Of course, time-management issues only scrape the surface of today’s teen issues. Overscheduling, peer pressure, bullying and the distraction of social media are all obstacles that most children encounter daily.
The Naus have embraced social media. They believe shielding Bekah and Sam from it only reinforces the negative aspects. Annie feels it’s the parents’ job to explain what’s appropriate and what’s not, monitor usage and ensure it’s used only with positive intentions.
“Our teens live in a world that relies on digital information and the Internet,” she says. “It would be irresponsible for us to shelter them from developing the skills necessary to navigate it appropriately.”
The Nau family is one deeply rooted in faith. Joel is the pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church. His father and grandfather were also pastors. During his own childhood, he realized that being the “pastor’s kid” often makes children feel different. Because of this, he strives to be a more understanding and forgiving father.
“I try to celebrate the positive side of faith (God’s intentional and selfless love, wonder and direction for life) while not denying that negative aspects like self-righteousness exist,” he explains. “It’s only in my adulthood that I have begun to be more at ease with faith. But that was a hard-won victory, with a lot of grace along the way.”
Annie says natural consequences are important, but she strives to find the balance between guiding her children into adulthood and realizing when her children lack the tools to navigate certain situations. She feels that it’s not only vital to realize that children are still growing emotionally, physically and socially, but that it’s also acceptable to step in and assist with decisions when needed.
Joel certainly has moments when he struggles to let go, he admits. He frequently labels himself a “control-freak” and confesses that, at times, he’s underestimated his children.
“My son is a skillful driver, but I’m always worried for him when he takes the car out of town,” he says. “Last year, he went on a road trip with his friends and it nearly killed me. I even found it difficult to sit in the passenger’s seat when he was learning to drive. God bless driver’s education and their teachers.”
Joel and Annie share many of the same aspirations for their children. Kindness, empathy, loyalty, confidence, individuality and generosity are character traits they continue to encourage. They both delight in seeing Bekah and Sam develop their talents and gifts.
“As a typical worried parent, I also hope that in the future they find practical outlets for their creative interests. I hope they cultivate lives that are purposeful while they pursue their interests,” Joel adds.
Sam is currently a senior at Winterset High School and plans to attend college to study music education. Bekah is a freshman at WHS and is interested in musical theatre.
Keeping the lines of communication open has been key for the Naus, in addition to finding opportunities for family activities.
“Whether it’s going out to dinner together, going shopping or to a movie, it’s exceptionally important to spend time together,” Annie says. “When we do, we communicate better and really enjoy each other’s company.”
Joel and Annie say their children work harder than they feel they ever did, which any parent will agree is a victory in itself. They’ve witnessed the good relationships Sam and Bekah have formed with other teenagers and see that both have a genuine appreciation for others. Joel says the current generation of teenagers he’s encountered is impressive.
The feelings of pride are mutual. Although they don’t always express it, the Nau kids both say they are grateful for their parents and the limits and rules they’ve enforced to lead them in the right direction.
“My mom has given me everything I could ever need,” Sam says. “And my dad works very hard to support his family, and I don’t always thank him as properly as I should, but I am thankful for him.
It Takes A Village
Joel Nau’s advice to teen parents follows the old cliché, “It takes a village, church, community or school to raise a child.”
Steve Montross, guidance counselor at Winterset High School, has spent 38 years educating teens, 21 of them in Winterset. He wants parents to view WHS as a safe, educational environment — a place where teenagers can reach their full potential.
His message is simple: learning is a life-long process.
“In 1973 when I graduated from high school, you had few options,” he explains. “I want to teach kids to be thinkers, to make good decisions and think for themselves.”
Currently 90 percent of Winterset students attend post-secondary education after graduation.
According to Montross, the improper use of social media can make it hard for some of today’s teenagers to stay on track with their social and educational goals.
“It used to be that educators saw the problems at school and could help students resolve them,” he explains. “Now the conflicts occur at night and outside of the school. Others start participating, and it’s not one on one anymore; it makes it much harder to get a handle on.”
Montross says Winterset High School spends more time addressing bullying than he ever intended, but the school has definitely turned a corner. This year WHS has seen the least amount of student conflicts in years.
And the credit goes to the parents.
“Mothers and fathers are really stepping up to the plate and telling kids to turn off the phone,” Montross says. “It only takes three or four kids to stir up trouble or to take a stand and make a difference.”
Kyla Dickey is a senior at WHS and says that social media isn’t her top priority.
“I didn’t get a Facebook page until eighth grade, and it’s just not something I’m super into,” she says.
Dickey describes herself as “competitive,” and like many of her peers, she finds herself overscheduled at times. She admits that her personal drive for success can sometimes create chaos. When she’s busy, she has to work twice as hard to stay organized. If she finds herself overloaded, she makes a point to spend time with family, relax or watch a movie to unwind.
“I want to do my best, and I like knowing where I’m at,” she explains. “I’ve learned to push myself in academics and I want my parents to be proud of me.”
Dickey plans to attend pharmacy school at the University of Iowa or Drake University. From a young age, her parents stressed the importance of a college education in today’s job market.
And although she’s aware of teenage bullying, she feels that most of her peers get along well. If she does see a struggling student, she urges that person to find a teacher to talk to or a group of friends for support.
Montross wants parents to do the same if their teenager fails to reach out on their own.
“Call the school,” he advises. “We have programs, student assistance counselors and other resources to help students both socially and academically. If we don’t know about it, we can’t help you through it.”