Parenting pre- teens:
Parenting pre-teens and early teens
It’s been a while since I have written any articles and in the interim my children have grown into the pre-teen and early teen stage with all its joys and challenges! Here are some thoughts I have been turning over in my mind about this age which have been sparked off by Simon Sinek’s clip “Millenials in the Workplace”.
- According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages, teens are in the “Ego Identity vs Ego Diffusion” stage where they are supposed to be working out who they are, what their purpose and interests are, and how to have meaningful human relationships. Sinek’s view on screen devices is so helpful : According to Sinek, teens around the age of 13 are learning through feel-good feedback mechanisms what they enjoy doing that brings purpose and meaning. There are two choices young teens face: become involved in meaningful activities and relationships that lead to a sense of satisfaction and connectedness, or divert into dopamine-rich addictive activities such as screen games, TV, movies and DVDs, social media, alcohol, drugs, sexual addictions and porn or eating and sleeping. All of these are what can be termed amnesiacs, which numb normal feelings and shield the user from engaging in and healthily processing their emotions. In so doing, young teens grow up with an underdeveloped ability to handle their emotions especially within relationships.
- So how does a parent assist a pre-teen and young teen to work out who they are and what brings them joy, purpose and meaning? The first starting point is to teach the basics of being an adult: How to care for yourself.
- Learning to cook: Both of my children have really enjoyed learning to cook meals and can independently make simple dishes such as macaroni, quiche, tuna spaghetti, bolognaise and potjie. My son is a scout and my husband has invested in two conservation stoves with a potjie pot and Dutch oven so that he and my son can try out different potjie recipes and make potbrood. Great satisfaction is achieved when one has laboured over a meal and produced a tasty outcome for the family.
- Learning to bake: biscuits, chocolate cake, puff pastry, brownies, scones – simples recipes can be selected and taught and then baked independently. We have a “throw it all together” birthday cake recipe which my daughter has enjoyed baking with friends who come for a visit. Icing the outcome and then cutting the cake in half for two families brought great joy and excitement.
- Home maintenance: I have taught both children to paint, our first famous effort being to paint the garage out in 2015. More recently my daughter and I painted out her room while the guys were away for a dads and lads scout trip, and my son and I painted out his room soon after. I discovered that painting one’s own bedroom with a deadline (before dad comes back from the weekend!) created a sense of urgency and fun. Putting a colour on the walls motivated us to get finished so we could see the final outcome.
- Sewing and knitting: Did you know that in the 1500s, the only people to knit were men? Sailors knitted their own jerseys, and only later did women take up the craft. Despite the fact that I am in no way hand-work inclined, I have found huge benefit in teaching both children to knit and use the sewing machine from an early age. I have a beautiful, 60 year old electric machine which, after a good service, has given us hours of happy sewing. An example of a boy-sewing activity was teaching my son to edge scarves for his scout birthday party, and my daughter and I have used online tutorials to learn to sew simple straight skirts. I have seen how learning to sew and knit teaches a young person qualities such as perseverance and independence, and again the finished product is a source of great pride and satisfaction.
- Holiday activities: On a recent holiday away, finances were tight so I took our sewing machine with us and we ventured off to nearby Brits to find a onesie pattern and fleecy material our own onesies . Holidays are great because there is sufficient time to try out more complex projects. We taught ourselves to lay and cut a pattern, and each child sewed their own winter pyjama onesie. My daughter needed more help but my son at 13years was able to sew the whole thing on his own with a small amount of guidance at each step. Although we are definitely novices and made a few mistakes, there is something special about wearing something you have made for yourself.
- Birthday parties: Since our children were small I have tried to plan birthday parties bearing the children’s developmental stage in mind. For pre-teen and early teen parties we have included many of the same principles mentioned above: My son’s 12 and 13 year parties included making your own fires and cooking your own food, and my daughter’s 11th party was a baking party where the girls baked scones, brownies and made chicken pies for lunch. Pellet gun target practise ended off the boys’ sleepover, and for the girls they made gift bags in which to take home some of their home-baked edible goodies.
- Responsibilties first: My son is a Minecraft fundi and excellent at developing working redstone contraptions that involve complicated circuits and designs. Whilst technology is vital in a modern world, it should never dominate our families and replace normal childhood development and maturity. Mature adults first complete their responsibilities before “rewarding” themselves with relaxation and recreation. Therefore school projects, speeches and homework as well as home chores and helping with maintenance should not be neglected in favour of hours and hours of screen time. Learning to regulate your screen hours is a part of learning to live in the real world. However if you as the parent don’t have specific activities in mind, you will never drag a teen away from a screen!! As part of a general clean out and tidy up this past weekend, we pulled out the scale electrix to decide whether to keep it or toss it. This resulted in two days of tinkering and problem solving with real circuits and my son experienced both the frustration when trying to repair fiddly electrics as well as the satisfaction of getting something to work that had been not functioning. Minecraft was not missed!!
- Holiday Club: Each July I run a children’s Holiday Club at our church using the teens as leaders. I use the same principles outlined above when choosing club activities and I have noticed over 8 years:
- The most popular elective is baking;
- Children love to learn real things. We did things like kite-making, paper rockets, bull-dog clip catapults, pottery, baking, science, mosaics and scoobydoos;
- The older girls were given the opportunity to sew a simple bag using the sewing machine, which brought great excitement and satisfaction.
- The teens work in pairs to run an elective with 8 children and find great satisfaction in doing the same activity 5 times where they can improve and learn. They learn a lot and like the independence of doing a responsible task alone.
So what’s the secret?
- Relating to preteens and early teens is made much easier when you are focusing on a TASK as opposed to focusing on the PERSON. Although you are doing quality time and acts of service together, its less confrontational and more naturally engaging to be learning a task together. Furthermore, if you select the activity wisely and have a fairly guaranteed outcome, there are ample opportunities for words of affirmation, thereby moving past the nagging trap and on towards value and appreciation.
- Secondly, the value comes in the fact that you are engaging in real-life activities geared towards serving others vs self-centred activities geared towards selfish aspirations. Maturity comes when we can be other-focused as we are moving our children towards the adult developmental stage of “Generativity vs self-absorption”. Self-focus is a sign of immaturity and is appropriate in the toddler years when we expect to see egocentricity.
Recently one of the teens I know shared with me how her friends talk about having no reason to live. How sad – to have every modern convenience, all the money, the best schools and a world of opportunities yet to see no reason to live! Meaning and purpose are derived from purposeful activity and meaningful relationship. Don’t be afraid to do “normal” activities with modern teens and pre-teens. You will find many hours of joyful as you help them navigate the real world.