A Manageable Routine for a Teen

Q: I need help regarding the evening routine for my 16-year-old daughter, after she arrives home after her sport, which is usually 5 p.m., during the week. She has ADHD and says she needs to decompress when she gets home before launching into chores/homework. That has translated into procrastination on phone/computer, getting homework done too late, or maybe not completed and getting to bed too late. She doesn’t have a bedtime—as she says, “Mom, don’t you think I want to go to sleep? I will go to bed, when all my work is done.”

I want to take electronics away for a certain amount of time at night. But then she says she needs her devices to do homework. Can I make her go to bed at a particular time? She takes rigorous courses and does have a lot of work, she just doesn’t manage her time well.

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A: I can tell by your question that this is a topic that has gone round and round between you and your daughter without any changes or resolution on either side. I do have some advice, but I’m not sure it will be what you want to hear because simply put: The only person in this equation who you can change is you. But changing how you approach this will help your relationship with your daughter and help her to take full responsibility for her time. However, if you follow my advice, you might not see any improvement in the current situation, i.e., how your daughter manages her time, but you will see improvement in your own stress about the matter.

One thing to note first: We all handle transitions differently. Some of us can move smoothly from one task or situation to another, while others need mini-breaks to transition from school to home. You might see her decompression time as wasteful, but it might be what she needs to clear her brain from the school day and focus on the afternoon/night ahead.

Those disclaimers out of the way, here’s what I would do (and do with my own middle schoolers who have homework on the computer): You have an end time when everything electronic is shut down for the night, including personal devices (phones), etc. Decide on what that time will be. For the sake of this answer, we’re going with 9 p.m.

Then tell your daughter that you’re sorry you’ve been trying to manage her time for her, that you are giving that back to her. You will not be asking her about homework or what she’s doing. After she expresses her delight in this, inform her that all electronic devices (computers, laptops, tablets, phones) will be shut down (and turned in to you in the case of the portable ones) by 9 p.m. each evening. Tell her that this is a non-negotiable time. If she hasn’t managed to finish her homework or check in with her friends by 9 p.m., that’s just too bad for her.

Now, be prepared that for the first night (or the first few weeks), she will blithely ignore this and procrastinate as usual. I’d give her a 10-minute warning (maybe set a kitchen timer) at 8:50 p.m. to finish up. Then when 9 p.m. rolls around, you enforce the shut down and confiscate the devices. She will plead, beg, cajole, throw a tantrum, etc., that she “has” to finish XYZ, to which you simply shrug and act very sorry she didn’t have enough time. Remind her she can get up early the next day to finish it before school if she likes, but that’s it for tonight.

The only thing you have to do is brace yourself for the fallout and don’t cave in. The first time will be the hardest but the sky will not fall. Her grades might slip for a short period of time, but you are giving her a lesson that’s worth a few lower grades–the ability to figure out how to manage her time by herself.

I Mix Up Your Name Because I Love You

Finally, scientific studies show that moms—like me!—who can’t seem to spit out their own child’s name have a really good reason: we love our kids.

My mom used to call me Vicki or Shawn, my two older sisters, often when I was growing up. Trouble was, because of the large age gap between them and me, Vicki and Shawn had grown and moved out of the house by the time I was in grade school. To this day, she’ll call me one of my sister’s names (thank goodness, not my brothers’!). So why did my mom constantly get my name wrong?

Of course, I thought it was simply something my mom did—drove me crazy sometimes, but hey, she’s, er, older than I am, so it makes certain sense. Then I had a daughter, then another, and all of a sudden, I’m calling “Leaomi” when I mean to say Leah or Naomi. My two boys have names that don’t roll together so easily, but I still call Micah by his brother’s name, Silas, and vice versa. Sometimes, I can’t even get any name out even though I’m staring right at the kid.

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What a relief to know there’s a scientific reason for this! Yep, we massacre our kids’ names because, well, we love them.

A recent Babble article looked at a 2016 review of five studies of more than 1,700 participants on the problem of misnaming (the report was published in Memory and Cognition). Most often, it was the mothers who called the respondents by the wrong name, but those naming mistakes happened in nearly all family members and friends. While sometimes the misnomers were found to be because of similar sounding names, more often, the wrong names were said because of love.

“Overall, the misnaming of familiar individuals is driven by the relationship between the misnamer, misnamed, and named,” the study stated. That means, the closer we are to someone, the more probable we’ll mix up his or her name.

Because our brain organizes material into the semantic network (like a mental filing system—think Inside Out), we group similar information together. Hence, the propensity for moms to mix-up their children’s names or run through the entire list before landing on the right one.

So kids, it’s just because I love you so much that I can’t get your names right.

Tackling the Small Stuff

Q: My wife and I are discussing smaller issues in our household in which we want to train our children. Examples of these issues are leaving lights on when leaving a room, shutting door during rest time, putting jackets and shoes away when coming home or putting clothes in the hamper. When we talked about what consequence we would give for these minor violations, we discussed giving extra chores. What advice do you have for us in this?

A: This is a great questions, because it’s the little things that can drive us crazy, right? The shoes left yet again in the middle of the living room floor instead of being put away in the shoe basket. The coat draped over the chair every day after school instead of being hung up in the closet. The stack of collectors cards left on the floor each evening in a high traffic area.

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Some of these minor infractions are labeled as such because it bothers us. Some are wasteful (lights left on in rooms with no one present, for example). The reason you want something done isn’t as important as how you present the task and how you motivate their cooperation.

A few years ago, my four kids couldn’t “remember” to turn out a light when leaving an empty room to save their lives. Only when I hit upon the solution of putting the miscreant to bed 10 minutes early did their ability to turn out lights improve drastically. So there is hope, but I wouldn’t have a consequence be extra chores necessarily, unless it’s more of a natural consequence, i.e., the consequence for not putting dirty clothes in the hamper was doing everyone’s laundry that week.

However, since you have quite a list of minor offensives, I would pick one to start with and focus only on that one, such as turning out lights, for a few weeks. Once the kids have mastered that, move on to the next item on your list. (You can order them according to how much they bother you and work on what drives you the craziest first). Don’t try to get all of them at once, or you’ll be policing your kids all the time and they will feel like they can’t do anything right.

As for consequences, think outside the chore box—you’ll want to shake things up a bit to keep the kids on their toes. If you want to have some fun, write down a list of consequences and pick one at random for violations. You could even have a minor violations consequences jar with slips of paper listing punishments. Remember that the punishment does NOT have to equal the crime. Sometimes, you’ll go with natural consequences (doing everyone’s laundry when leaving dirty clothes on the floor), sometimes with outrageous ones (as in you gather all the dirty clothes up and put them in a box for a month, including any favorite pieces of clothing).

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that it’s not so much for the sake of the task (turning off lights) as much as it is to increase a child’s awareness of his surroundings. A child who constantly leaves his bookbag in the middle of the living room floor for everyone to walk around is a child who’s not paying attention to his family. He’s willing to inconvenience everyone else because he can’t be bothered to put his bookbag in its proper place. Think of this as helping a child create more awareness of others (and exhibit less selfish behavior) than as addressing your particular pet peeves.

Just Because It’s the Right Thing

Q: I have a soon to be 15-year-old son in ninth grade. He is in a scholar program at a private school, and he has earned a partial scholarship based on his academic abilities. He also is in his third year of a gifted math program at a local college. His grades have begun to fluctuate. He is not earning good scores in the math program. He seems to only care about playing his computer, the shooting games popular with his age group. He has only been allowed to play on weekends if his grades are up to par (above a 90%).

He is capable of these grades. So now I have taken all technology away for this upcoming quarter. He says that he doesn’t care anymore if he loses everything. He is not going to improve his grades. I am worried that I am being too excessive. Is the consequence appropriate?

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A: The short answer is yes, taking away technology for the quarter in order to motivate your son to improve his grades is appropriate. However, what your worry indicates is that you assumed that would “make” him change his tune about his grades/schoolwork. He’s doing what any teenager does—testing to see if you’re really serious by saying “he doesn’t care” about the consequence.

You’ve run into the paradox that is parenting: A parent can do the right thing and the child can still do the wrong thing, but that doesn’t mean the parent stops doing the right thing.

You are doing the right thing by taking away his electronics. Now he has a choice—he can continue to thumb his nose at schoolwork and fail even more or he can buckle down and get back to business. He might *say* he doesn’t care, but stick to the plan and he might come around on his accord. Fold now, and he’ll know that you don’t mean what you say or say what you mean. That will cause many more problems in the future than a few dismal grades in the present.

And be prepared that he might flame out entirely. But at 15, he’s old enough to face the academic consequences of that choice. Yes, those consequences could be far-reaching at this stage in his academic career but again, that’s on him, not you. It’s his life and his choice to do the best he can with what God has given him—or to waste it all by not applying himself.

I know this is tough for you to watch, but you’ve done the right thing. Now it’s up to your son.

Step-in Parenting

By Davalynn Spencer

Parenting is a challenging call. But the call to parent someone else’s child can often overwhelm us with a do-or-die, sink-or-swim fatalistic mind-set.

When my husband and I married, I gained a six-year-old stepson who spent summers and some holidays with us. He lived in a different state, and though we would like to have had him more often, we were happy for what we could get.

As a step-in parent, I did not ask my stepson to call me “mother” or “mom” or any other endearment while he was with us. I was not his mother and could not take her place, so I gave him the choice to call me whatever came naturally to him. However, my authority as his father’s wife was clearly established in our home, and he respected that.

Young and inexperienced in parenting, I did many things wrong, but choosing to accept him for who he was and giving him unconditional love helped us over the rough places and eventually won his trust.
When writing my novella, “The Wrangler’s Woman,” I drew upon my early experiences as a step-in parent. The story’s premise did not exactly match my circumstances, but the heroine’s challenges as a step-in authority were close to what I lived through.

The heroine, Corra Jameson, is hired to help a widowed rancher turn his tomboy daughter into a young lady. Corra moves in with the family and faces the challenge of being considered an interloper with no real authority, yet one who expects a child to change her ways. A three-prong approach helps her win the daughter over.

First, Corra demonstrates complete acceptance of the girl for who she is, even though it is Corra’s job to change what she is.

Next, Corra commands respect for her authority-by-position—that of a hired “lady-trainer” who is completely capable of accomplishing the task at hand.

Finally, Corra does not try to be the girl’s mother—substitute or otherwise. Through thoughtful acts of kindness, expectations of compliance, and as much giving as taking, she wins obedience, the required changes, and eventually love.

We live in a give-and-take world with an emphasis on taking. But if we choose to give where, when, and what we can, we will reap a harvest of love, even as a step-in parent. Maybe we won’t see it immediately, the next year, or in the next 20 years. But we serve a loving Father who has assured us that what we give will be returned to us, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

About Davalynn Spencer
Bestselling author Davalynn Spencer writes Christian romance with cowboys and teaches creative writing at her local junior college. She has a background in journalism and rodeo, and makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue and two mouse detectors, Annie and Oakley. Visit Davalynn on her website at www.davalynnspencer.com.

Sensory or Stubbornness?

Q: My 11-year-old daughter needs to start wearing a bra but is refusing.  She has always had sensory issues with clothes, such as socks, tight-fitting clothes like jeans, shoes even—very particular about the clothes she wears. She tried a bra on once but has said it was too uncomfortable. How do I get her to start wearing one?

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A: All too often we discount a child’s sensory issues when it comes to clothing, ignoring their discomfort or dismissing their concerns as childish behavior. I remember hating to wear scratchy sweaters, which was basically anything that was acrylic and sometimes wool. It always made me feel hot and itchy. I never broke out in hives or anything, but to this day, I stay away from anything but cotton when it comes to sweaters and other heavy garments. I also tend to stick with all natural fibers to avoid the experience of synthetics against my skin, which often makes me feel, well, funny in a way.

Since your daughter is already particular about what goes next to her skin, I’m not surprised that bras are on her “do not wear” list. Plus, this can be a difficult transition for girls, especially as bras are not the most comfortable things to wear and most have underwire that can constrict and pinch. I’m assuming at this age, she probably doesn’t need a lot of coverage, so you can get away with some alternatives for now.

Try cotton camisoles with or without built-in “bra” shelves or those little “halters” that are kind of like the top of a two-piece bathing suit that are less bra-like as well that might work too. Those might make the transition time work better. Girls can even wear some of the “boy” tank top undershirts, which are nearly always cotton or cotton blend. Have her do some sleuthing of her own to find out what fabrics she can tolerate and which she can’t—a good project for an 11 year old to do.

Then when she really needs to wear a bra, spend some time researching fabrics and involve her in the process to find a brand and style that work well for her. I’m guessing she probably put on the one you bought, it pinched or felt funny, and she was done. Use the interim items, talk to her about why it’s important to wear a bra or bra-like undergarment, and let her choose the model to wear. There are many different styles of bras out there, so finding the right brand and style that work for her will take some time, but it’s time well spent, given that you’re helping her figure out one of the most important garments a girl will ever wear.

A Family Affair

Whether you have brothers or sisters or are the parents of more than one child, you know that siblings can be a blessing—and drive you crazy. Last month, I talked about sibling rivalry in the home from the parent perspective and sibling conflict as adult brothers and sisters on the podcast, Chained No More.

The topics hit a nerve, with thousands of listeners tuning in to hear my interview with host Robyn Besemann. Here’s some of what I discussed with Robyn during the two shows.

On parents wanting to get rid of conflict in their homes
Conflict is a part of life because we all want what we want when we want it—at heart, we’re all selfish beings, and sometimes those selfish wants/desires bubble over and clash with someone else’s wants/desires, etc., or our wants/desires mean someone else has to give up something.

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On reducing rivalry between step-parents and step-siblings
The number-one way parents can prevent step family sibling rivalry is to remove the word “step” from their vocabulary and treat all the kids like their own. No special favors, no regulating one parent into the role of observer,

On why we should try to get along with our adult siblings
Because these are the people who know you best, who have been there from the beginning, and who will likely be the ones around at the end. And because you’ll want assistance in helping your aging parents one day. And because our own children are watching how we relate to our siblings

On issues that crop up into adulthood that trigger sibling rivalry
Parental favoritism is a huge one, with some parents continuing or beginning a family dynamic of always taking care of one adult child for a variety of reasons. This could be fine, but most of the time, parents don’t bother to explain or even try to explain to their other kids the why behind their actions.

On building a bridge to repair sibling relationships
Don’t talk about them behind their backs. Be civil at family gatherings. Be the one to walk away and not engage in fights. Try to remember the positive things and think about those. Notice these are all things you can do—you can’t change the sibling, but you can change how you think and relate to the sibling.

To hear these free, hour-long podcasts, visit Chained No More.
“Sibling Rivalry: How to End the War At Home” aired on January 10, 2017.
“Adult Sibling Rivalry: Building Bridges and Mending Fences” aired on January 17, 2017.

Beware of Pokémon?

Q: My 8-year-old son has recently been given a few Pokémon cards by a friend of his at school, and enjoys them. My wife’s and my concern is mostly about Pokémon that have psychic powers/moves or dark powers (“dream-eater” is a move). My son does seem to highlight these kind of moves as he talks about this new-found interest with us. I grew up playing the game, both electronic and card version. However, I was about 14 or 15 when Pokémon first became popular, and I had a good sense of fantasy versus reality when it came to the more fantastic moves.

What would your recommendation be for my 8-year-old about Pokémon, especially the monsters with psychic and dark powers?

A: I appreciate your question because it shows you are trying to be thoughtful in discerning what is and isn’t impacting your son’s mental well-being. So many times, we parents don’t pay enough attention to how our kids are playing. The fact that you noticed something about your son’s demeanor in playing Pokémon is great.

That said, I must confess that my two boys, ages 8 and 10, have been avid Pokémon collectors for several years, and I have yet to notice anything particularly dark about their play or countenance because of their association with Pokémon. We don’t allow them to play the Pokémon video games or watch the Pokémon TV show (we don’t have cable or a subscriber service). Mostly, they trade and play the game with friends, read Pokémon books and watch the occasional Pokémon movie.

But that doesn’t mean that your son can’t be influenced by some of the darker side of Pokémon. As with any child, some are more prone to fantasy than others–some kids have no trouble with separating real and fantasy, while others do. You can limit the amount of time he spends playing with the cards or game as well.

Have him stick with the actual cards and in-person play versus online games and interactions. That will likely help keep him more grounded in reality. Since you have some experience with Pokémon, perhaps you can play with him.

Is Middle School Bad for Moms?

NPR recently ran a story entitled, “Being Mom To A Middle Schooler Can Be The Toughest Gig Of All.” In it, the author quoted a study that found during the middle school years, moms experienced the “lowest levels of maternal happiness and are even more stressed out than new parents.”

One mom quoted in the piece said, “Parenting a tween is harder than mothering an infant,” adding that when her child was a baby, “I worried about his sleeping and eating schedules, but those were things I could kind of control. Now, I obsess over how much freedom I should give him when he’s playing Pokémon Go with his friends, and how I can monitor what he’s doing online. In many ways, he’s more on his own now, and I have to trust him to make the right choices.”

The study authors said moms of tweens “reported feeling the most unhappy or depressed when their children are in middle school, but that the transition begins when children are 10 years old. Parents of teens are actually happier than parents of middle schoolers.”

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How can moms feel better about their tweens and young teens? Here are 7 suggestions.

  1. Don’t take it personally. I know, it’s hard to pull back after you’ve been so involved in your child’s life (that’s a whole other blog!), but you need to distance yourself from your tween’s life and your own. Yes, there will be ups and downs, drama and tears, but reminding yourself (daily, hourly, minute-by-minute if necessary) that this is not your life will give you perspective.
  2. Don’t project your own middle school experience onto your tween. I’ve rarely met someone who had a fantastic middle school time; mine was really horrendous in a lot of ways. But I had to push those memories aside and view my daughter’s entry into seventh grade more optimistically. My experience wouldn’t necessarily be her experience—and it hasn’t been. Both of my girls have made a fairly easy transition to junior high.
  3. Give space but stay close. Easier said than done, right? Start giving your tween and young teen more autonomy but be present physically and mentally. Check in with them on a daily basis, but don’t push too hard for details.
  4. Up the love. Yes, I know we love our kids, but was easier to hug, squeeze, kiss and cuddle when they were three than thirteen. Find ways to show and tell your tween/young teen that you love him. Keep those physical connections, although you might have to curb some of the more gushy gestures. They may protest, but secretly, they love to be loved on.
  5. Have an open house. Make your house be the one the kids congregate at after school by being around but not intrusive. A few girls come over to our house so often, they call themselves our “other daughter,” which is fine by me.
  6. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Tweens and young teens are figuring out so much, that they often don’t have the answers to life’s questions on the tip of their tongue—but they will get there eventually if we can keep our mouths shut long enough to let them. Sure, we have advice and it’s usually spot on, but wait for them to ask for it before giving it.
  7. Focus on the positive. This is an awkward age all around, growth spurts, hormones, harder classes, possibly friend troubles, social anxiety—the list can go on and on. But a parent who notices the extra effort, who comments positively more than negatively, will have a better connection with their middle schooler.

Overall, remember to keep your eye on raising adults, rather than raising middle schoolers. That should help to keep these years in perspective.

Until next time,

Sarah