Standing at the crossroads
Throughout our lives we come to important crossroads, times where a choice one way or the other will make a significant difference to the way our lives will turn out. One major crossroads is the age of 12 – 13 years, when young teens are formulating who they are and what they stand for. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is written with the understanding that this age has many temptations: friends who say “come along with us” but have bad intentions; people who mock their parents and turn their backs on the good they were taught; those who despise the wisdom shared with them by older role models and who rush headlong into disaster. (Chapters 1 – 3)
How does one support and guide a young teen through these difficult years? Here are a few crossroads thoughts that have given me some direction.
- Jesus or me? Demonstrate and live out a close and meaningful relationship with Jesus so that they can see first and foremost that the greatest meaning and purpose anyone can have in life is to have Jesus in your heart and to live for Him. Every other purpose will disappear when you die, but your life in Jesus will continue long after you die.
- Others or me?
It’s important to bear in mind that self-focus is a sign of immaturity and does not bring about satisfaction or long-term purpose and meaning in life. Whilst our whole society teaches us to be self-focussed, this sadly does not lead to the contentment it promises. Contentment comes when we become other-focussed. An example in our own family is that I decided to take my daughter on a missions’ trip to support some missionaries in a neighbouring country instead of us going on a traditional “we need a holiday” holiday. We had a most fabulous rest and did indeed have a holiday, but more than that, she learnt that life is not only about ourselves but about meeting the needs of others as God leads us.
(References: Erik Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages)
- Purpose or apathy?
Help them to work out their identity – how did God make me and what talents and gifts, interests and abilities did He give me? Help them to discover purpose by encouraging their involvement in youth and church activities, community activities clubs or sport (see point 5 below).
- Intact or broken?
Avoid these relationship breakers (Mark Gregston www.heartlightministries.org ) if you want to survive the turbulent years. Continue to be available and engaging.
#1 Demanding perfection
#2: Having a judgmental attitude
#3: The need to control
#4: Constant negativity
- Suffocating control or maturing responsibility?
Shift gear – move from control to coaching, give more responsibilities, ask for decisions and participation and be prepared for some failed efforts and imperfect attempts.
- Dopamine or serotonin?
This fascinating article clearly outlines what actually happens in the brain when you either
- Become a screen-o-holic, passively sitting on a chair all day vs
- Being involved in purposeful, meaningful and other-directed activities (see point 2 above).
- Emotionally immature or growing in maturity?
Don’t forget to have conversations and talk about feelings with busy teens – they need to develop holistically and will need to cultivate the art of expressing and processing their emotions in a healthy way. This requires responsiveness to when they are open to talking, availability, peacefulness, an accepting attitude and a respectful approach.
Wisdom is required when facing such an important crossroads, and God offers for us to ask for wisdom if we lack it (James 1:5). Prayer is required if we are to use Godly wisdom with our teens.
Parenting pre- 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 joy as you help them navigate the real world.