By Marika Siewert
Many parents of young children know that we are constantly bombarded with messages of how important and crucial the first 5 years of a child’s life are, but something I learned a few years ago ( from the experience of a friend ) taught me that being present through the teens years can be just as - if not - perhaps even more important in our children’s lives.
Many changes happen from birth to year 5 before they enter kindergarten. A nurturing environment is important, parent/child interaction, healthy nutrition, character development and discipline are important, as well as staying away from screen time for their brain development. It is in these years that children learn their spoken language, learn how to be part of a family unit and they will also begin their drawing skills which in turn prepare them for writing. Some even begin to learn to read. Basic life skills are taught within these vital early years.
The countless parental guidance books one can read, or conversations parents will have with their peers allow them to recognize that most are in agreement of these truths.
Once the path to school as begun, we as parents then learn to trust a majority of the children’s education to teachers and counsellors often within the school system. As parents, we are told it is time to let go a little and let our children learn to grow up and begin to form their own individual paths.
Now, while I agree with the importance of being present in the early years, one thing I learned through the wisdom of a friend is that while the early years are important, what potentially could be even more vital that is not stressed as much in society today is actually being ever present and available for your teenagers. From my friend’s life experience she made it clear that when your child becomes a teenager, we as parents are often convinced and even encouraged to let our teens figure out life on their own or with their peers, when in fact, what they need is for their parents to stay close, to be available to guide through what can be the most tumultuous time in a person’s life.
I, for one am finding that what society is dictating to our teenagers is actually becoming very toxic, and we as adults step up to the plate to navigate our teens to ensure a positive and confident future for them.
In the midst of negative stigmas, targeted money marketing, cyber bullying, cyber crimes and in general having a generation that has grown up with instant everything, we need to get back to foundational skills of life, as well as just having old school face to face conversations.
I am a huge advocate for real life face time. Our teenagers know they can trust us as parents to listen, not judge, guide and also at times, let go. But we also need to teach our teens character, integrity, the goodness of working hard and being independent and not giving in to what media is dictating as truth.
Here are 5 ways you can connect more with you teens:
1. Go on specific “ dates “ to just have fun one on one, or go to dinner. This serves two purposes: 1. To connect and have real conversation that keeps communication always open for trust and advice. 2. It teaches the teen how to treat themselves and possibly a future relationship. It teaches generosity of time, possibly resources, compassion, listening skills, and communication skills (which are being taken award from our teens because of social media and texting). It really is rewarding one a whole for both the parent/guardian and teen.
2. Begin to teach money management - whether your teen works in your house, or works outside, guide him/her in how to save and invest. If you aren’t that great with you money, that’s ok - learn together. I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s course - Financial Peace University. It is a process that allows more independence even financially for your teen, but again shows he can be trusted with money.
3. Volunteer together - as a family, volunteer or take part in community events. This creates a great habit of giving back and compassion towards people of all ages, status and walks of life.
4. Set aside family time at least once a week that is purposely for the whole family to get together.
5. Go on family vacations. As our teens get older there is a tendency to “leave the older teen at home” but stress the importance of family time. Or, make your vacations more fun so that they want to come!! Haha. Make it purposeful to plan times to vacate to connect. These memories will stay with your teens for life, and it will also show them the power of connecting and playing together at any age.
We are always learning as we go, but I hope these suggestions encourage you!
Happy teenage parenting!