And just like that, he was gone…six weeks in Dublin, Ireland to study abroad. Brigham had never flown outside of the country before, and had only flown by himself once…on a nonstop two hour flight. His college engineering/computer science program required him to take classes in another country (we learned that last year during orientation) and they strongly suggested doing so the summer after freshman year.
Last August when we moved him onto campus, I wasn’t sure how well Brigham would navigate the first year in college (not necessarily academically; he just wasn’t the most social kid throughout high school and that concerned me a little). But, not only did Brigham do well in his classes, he chose to get into a nightly workout routine at the campus gym (even on weekends) and to find then join the club tennis team and travel with them to several tournaments around the state of Texas. Other than the one night his roommate ended up with a horrible case of food poisoning which eventually landed them in the ER, the year was smooth sailing.
So when it was decided he would go to Ireland for classes this summer, it was a natural extension of what he’d grown into and accomplished during the previous school year. Brigham is more than halfway through his 6-week term and we look forward to having him with us again briefly before he returns to Texas Tech for his sophomore year, this time living in an apartment, which will again be another “first.”
I feel strongly he is on a track to successfully “launch”…
My recipe for success around raising adolescents in today’s crazy world begins in earnest during middle school, and then even more progressively through their high school years. It’s at that point I believe our main role as parents is to transition into working with them as their guide. Spending less time and energy on creating rules, and more on giving them choices that allow them to discover who they are and how they want to engage with life. Balancing this approach with some basic boundaries around nutrition, sleep, free/screen time, and personal safety is the key.
For example, our 12 and 14-year-olds (the only ones still under the roof permanently) are in bed by 10 p.m. during the school year. They can read until they get tired if they want to, and electronics are in their designated spots before they hit the sack. Each are expected to get up on their own, make their own breakfast and lunch (with fresh fruit).
In the summertime (because there tends to be so much free time even when they are involved in camps and volunteering) we work together to try and balance real life activities (friends/out for dinner without electronics/hikes/running errands) with screen time (admittedly, this can be challenging). It has been found too much screen time/social media can lead to addiction; I believe it’s our job (as adults with fully functioning frontal lobes) to continue to consistently engage our kids in “real world, face-to-face” life. You can’t walk into a room and tell a kid to “Get off that phone!” and expect it to happen. I know this because I’ve tried it, more than once. There has to be a follow up plan, preferably one you are a part of. “Hey Mia, would you be willing to put the phone down at the end of that video and come help me make spaghetti please?”
“Would you be willing…” a great way to ask anyone for anything, because it isn’t the least bit demanding.
The two of them have a few jobs to do around the house, nothing crazy but things that need to be done consistently (for us it’s part of the community of family and is defined as unpaid “pitching in”). Yes, sometimes it takes more than one request to get the job done, but I don’t get bent out of shape about it, instead I usually playfully ask them to comply (like through sending a funny filter on snap chat or overtly acting exasperated, which makes them laugh).
The more playful I am the easier it is to accomplish. If I were to approach either of them with anger and resentment they might do what I’ve asked, but then become pissy and resentful right back. That’s just not the way I want to live.
On the other hand, we think it’s important that our kids have a lot of say in the opportunities life brings as well…
During the summer, choices include which activities they want to be involved in, aside from what we decide to do as a family (which often gets decided by Tom or I because…given the choice…they would sit on electronics). And though they might start out less than excited about our plans, both come around pretty quickly and make the best of whatever situation we’ve brought them to.
During the school year, they choose the level of their core classes during registration (regular track versus PreAP), anything to do with their school electives, when they do their homework…and they have to be involved in something outside of school, but they chose what it is. One is in band and Taekwondo, the other tennis.
I don’t put “Remind 101” on my phone when the teachers ask. I am not trying to be rebellious, I just think school is my kid’s job. I will look at their grades online from time to time, but haven’t ever put any number/percentage into the system that enables the school to “ping” me if they drop below it. I’ve made it clear I am available and willing to take them to school early for tutoring whenever they need, but it’s up to them to step up and know when that time comes.
Getting a part time job at sixteen is non-negotiable. Where they decide to apply will be up to them. One of our boys played in a lot of tennis tournaments during high school and his schedule was really unpredictable so he took on lawn jobs that could be done in between things. Part of their earnings they can spend; part go into savings for college.
Curfew is midnight during latter high school years, non-negotiable.
We have a no sleepover rule.
You might say, “Wow that all sounds lovely Kim, but my kid won’t do squat unless I yell at him. And as far as observing a curfew, good luck with that!”
I believe the reason this has worked well with our kids is because of the energy and attitude I bring to the relationship. My kids inherently understand I am on their side, working with them, as they learn to navigate this (undeniably confusing, ever changing) stage of their lives. They aren’t scared of me (which I would never want), they work with me because I am flexible (outside of the solid boundaries) in working with them. I respect their individuality, they respect me.
I let them really see who I am. I apologize when it’s needed. I make time to connect with them before bed every night.
And we talk things through when there is a need to.
I want my kids to be able to come to me with tough stuff if they encounter it. Which means I am present and mindful (99% of the time) when they talk about the “little” things.
I believe that the quality of my parent/child relationships begins with the energy I bring into them. I also practice conscious patience and forgiveness when, on occasion, one of them says something I could so easily take personally like: “You aren’t going to wear that to the grocery store are you Mom?!” or “Mom, I’ll walk from here, please don’t pull up!” or the way my daughter makes fun of the way I say “Mom” (to my mom)…she mimics me because it’s so obvious I’m from Wisconsin when I say the word Mom. She was two years old when we moved to Texas, therefore feels she’s exempt from the home state “accent” (I don’t burst her bubble).
Last big thing I’ve learned, and is an important part of the recipe: I understand when one of my kids is emotionally triggering me.
Which leads me back to Brigham and his summer visit to Ireland…
We’ve been snapping back and forth a lot…he’s pretty good about letting us know what he’s doing (not that I have asked him to do this; it’s just part of his nature). The first day after Brigham arrived their group went on the Guinness beer tour. Of course the drinking age is eighteen in Ireland…The snap of the tasting at the end of the tour, along with the one he shared of the flight of whiskey when he went to Jameson a few weeks later almost immediately sent me straight into panic mode. Not to mention those from moments in the dorm in between the touring and some occasional pub excursions. Because of what I experienced with my eldest son several years ago, I am (admittedly) highly sensitive to the idea of Brigham being 4,500 miles away and on tours where alcohol is made and freely served to him (not to mention living within shouting distance of several Irish pubs and in dorms with guys trying to create the Tech emblem with beer cans inside of large windows).
But I ask myself almost immediately when I am feeling triggered, “What’s really going on here?” (to which I answer myself “you are worried he’ll go off the deep end”) then I remind myself that Brigham is not Nick. Nick was in a whole different set of circumstances and they are totally different people. Brigham has historically made solid choices for himself. And it’s totally natural that he would visit these places and try things out. Chillax Kim!
And then I move on.
That’s maybe a bit of an extreme example, but should illustrate the point I’m looking to make which is…our kids words and behavior (and sometimes snaps) will trigger emotion inside of us; it is up to us to process what’s underneath the surface reaction and not to project our feelings onto them, because when we react that way it will make whatever situation that’s arisen even worse.
This is my recipe for raising kids that will “take off”…get clear on boundaries around the basics (be consistent), give them choices whenever you can, let them make mistakes so they can learn to be resilient, never, ever judge, take good care of yourself so you can be fully present when you are with them. Above all else…they have to feel you sincerely love and accept them for exactly who they are!
What are some of your best parenting secrets when it comes to raising teens today? I’d love to know! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply below!