I'm in my car blasting the radio singing one of my favorite songs when I realize that I'm not alone. My 11-year-old daughter and I are jamming to Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten." This song and the connection I have with my daughter inspired me to answer Rhonda's cry for advice about teenagers last week. I've written about raising a preteen daughter before, but I realize that this is an ever-changing process. I love music and often relate it to life. I hope that this song and this advice helps ease your journey.
"I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned"
I vividly remember my teenage years, and I learned a lot that I'm now able to bring to my daughter's life. For her, this is a time of fluidity, confusion, and uncertainty.
I have found that there are some skills that I have gained as an adult that my daughter needs now, like people skills and problem-solving strategies, so I introduce these through books. Together, we've read "How to Win Friends and Influence People," by Dale Carnegie, "Think Big," by Ben Carson, M.D., and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens," by Sean Covey. Since we both like reading, we also started a mom-and-daughter book club, which meets once a month at a local bookstore. Some days it'll just be the two of us, so we do things we both enjoy — browsing the bookstore or going to Starbucks, Joann's, or Michael's. Parents: Take the time now to connect with your teen.
"Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find"
I also have encouraged my daughter to keep a journal. (Now, if you're only encouraging your teens to write so that you can read their journals every day in lieu of building trust with them and talking to them, then don't bother.) My rule is, if she's not talking to me, if she appears to be in some type of danger and counseling doesn't seem to help (yes, counseling BEFORE invasion of privacy), then I will read it. Other than that, I'd rather she work through sexual pressures, peer pressure, depression, and anxiety on paper than through her actions. If writing doesn't work for your child, encourage some other form of creative expression like photography, art, or music.
Your teen needs space, and so do you. Sometimes I have to resort to treating my preteen in a similar way to how I treat my toddler. When the yelling or the defiance comes, my response is usually the same: "Well, seems like you have some cooling off to do. Please go to your room, to your quiet place without interference (no TV, no phone, no computer) and just think about what you said, how you said it, and how you could have handled it differently. I'll do the same, and let's try this conversation again in, say, 30 minutes. Okay. Love you."
Yep, parenting is coming full circle. You're back to the time-outs.
"Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions"
Teens need some options, some choices, and some pushes in those directions. They're reaching for something that's far away—independence, definition, purpose—and outside of your home. Talk to your teens about your own life choices and fears. Share with them what your desired outcome is when you make those tough calls on their behalf. My eldest son showed great natural ability in gymnastics as a child, and was asked to tour on a pre-professional competitive team. Because both my husband and I are tall and we knew that he would likely outgrow the standard of most successful male gymnasts, we chose not to invest the time and money. It was tough, but we had to redirect his passion and talents in another way.
Have you ever made a tough call and told your teens "because I know what's best"? OUCH! Instead, be open with them, really open. Today's teens are getting a lot more info from outside sources about critical matters than we ever did and we need to make sure that we're their primary and most trusted source.
"Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips"
I'm singing to you: "No one else, no one else." You can't live their life for them. Stay interested, stay loving, stay firm, stay involved. Talk to your children about their self-image, but prepare to be startled. They are feeling ugly, smelly, fat, skinny, short, grumpy — the list goes on — and the ways that teens cope vary from putting someone else down to being violent or being withdrawn and depressed.
"Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with eyes wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten"
Even if you feel you've done a rotten job at parenting, there is still time. It's never too late. I cry at the end of this song because your new attitude, your teen's renewed connection with you starts today, right now...the rest is still unwritten.