We all have at least one—that mom thing we like to do for our kids. That little gesture that we use on a regular basis to communicate without words that we love our kids. For example, one mom makes her kids’ lunches for school every day. Her mom did that for her, and she enjoys passing on the tradition to her three children.
I do hair. Each morning, I brush and braid my two teenager daughter’s hair. Once a month or so, I cut my two boys’ hair. Sure, the girls could do their own hair, but I enjoy it and they enjoy having me do that in the mornings before school.
It’s wonderful that we each have a regular way we connect with our kids. The trick is not to have so many “mom” things that your kids aren’t doing things on their own.
With the school in full swing, the pressure to pack more into each day accelerates, which usually means sleep, especially for kids, can be sacrificed. “Bad sleep habits affect the whole chemistry of a child or teen’s day,” says Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, pediatric pulmonologist and interim head of the division of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and sleep medicine at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. At her practice, she sees “tweens going to bed at midnight or later without the parents realizing their children are not sleeping enough….We learn some kids are sleeping six hours a night or less, which is not enough sleep even for an adult.”
My article “Why you need to pay attention to older kids’ sleeping habits” in the Washington Post On Parenting outlines the importance of sleep for older kids and suggests ways parents can encourage good sleep habits. Here are some additional ways parents can help their kids and teens develop healthy sleep patterns.
Model good habits. Parents should place a priority on sleep themselves. “There have been several studies that show a parent who leads by example when it comes to sleep is very effective,” says Dr. Robert S Rosenberg, board certified Sleep Medicine Physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.
Have a set bedtime. Most nights, our 8-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m., our 10-year-old at 8:30 p.m., our 12-year-old at 9 p.m., and our 14-year-old at 9:30 p.m. “A consistent bed time aids in the development of healthy sleep habits,” says Terry Cralle, a nurse and certified clinical sleep educator.
Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. Again, parents should set an example in this area. “What you do before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep,” says Lasso-Pirot. “For example, if you’re playing a video game, it’s hard to go to bed right afterwards.”
Keep electronics, including cellphones, out of the bedroom. Have a central docking location or basket for devices. “If your child is getting texts in the middle of the night, know that it is a sleep distraction and can affect performance,” says Lasso-Pirot.
“Sleep is important for all of us and the younger you are, the more sleep your body requires to recharge the brain and process information,” says Christine Stevens, a certified sleep consultant with Sleepy Tots Consulting. “Parents must prioritize sleep for their families and set the example for their children with healthy sleep habits of their own.”
Q: Please help me navigate the Internet access issue for high schoolers. I know it’s recommended for kids to do their homework in their own rooms (so they know they are responsible), but I also know they shouldn’t have TVs and Internet access in their rooms. We don’t have TVs in bedrooms, but high schoolers require laptops with Internet access to check homework given, do research, and some online program/assignments. I know my teenagers also view content that is not beneficial and is time wasting in addition to homework. What do you recommend?
A: We’ve never required our kids to do their homework in their rooms simply because with four kids, each share a room and there’s simply no space for a desk or other surface conducive to homework in their bedrooms. But we still apply the principle in that we ignore their homework—it is their responsibility completely. As soon as they were reading well (sometime in first grade), we stopped helping them on a regular basis. We do allow the occasional question, and have clearly communicated that we will not run out and buy X, Y or Z for a last-minute project.
So our kids do their homework at the dining room table (we have an open floor plan) and the computers available to our middle schoolers for homework are centralized to the kitchen/dining /living room area. This allows us to keep an eye on what they’re doing, looking at, etc., but we steer clear of involvement. This has helped immensely with them not trying to sneak watching things and it has helped us monitor computer usage in general.
Our computer usage rules are simple: Three hours a day to include homework time and the computers are off limits at 7 p.m. each evening (well, we allow a little extra on Friday nights!). This means that they must have homework that needs to be done online finished by 7 p.m. each evening.
I share that to help you devices your own computer/electronic device policy. In my experience, having a set “off” time each evening will be more effective than telling them when to do their homework. Have them move their laptops to a central area so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing (or not doing). Also have a docking station for all electronic devices to be plugged in and left overnight to avoid the temptation to check who’s texting who at 3 a.m.
They may complain that it’s not enough time for them to do their homework, to which you shrug and say that you hope they will figure out how to make it work because that’s the new shutoff time. Then stick with it, even though they will probably come to you in a panic a time or two saying they haven’t finished. When they do, point out that they can certainly get up earlier to finish before school!
And practice good device usage yourself. It’s one thing to insist on down time from electronics for your kids and another to not put down the devices yourself. Develop technology free zones, such as during dinner and on Sundays, to help kids stay connected to the family and the real world.
Q: My son’s a 14-year-old ninth grader. His principal has mentioned to me a couple of times that he thinks my son could benefit from counseling on social issues, as he is socially not doing too great. By not great, I mean his interactions with others are often tense and negative. However, he has plenty of friends and enjoys hanging out with them.
The principal said he’s heard murmurings from other students that my son stirs up tensions. But there isn’t anything that can actually be pinned down, like “You lose all privileges until you go four weeks without punching and hitting.” It’s much more subtle.
His teacher also mentioned something along the same lines. I’ve already been advised three times to take him for counseling (once from the teacher and twice from the principal), but I have little to no faith in the profession (based on past experience).
Just wondering if you have a good idea how to handle such a vague situation?
A. There’s nothing worse than trying to combat rumors, especially in a high school where things can be easily distorted and murmurings take on entirely different meanings. I don’t blame you from feeling confused.
Remember, recommending counseling is their default position—it’s one that’s probably drilled into them as necessary for liability issues, etc. They’ve forgotten that most of the stuff like this can be resolved in the home with parents who are aware and who care about their kids enough to do some of the hard work. To many parents, counseling is the easier route because it doesn’t involve them directly.
If Son has plenty of friends, why is the principal concerned? What, exactly, does he think Son is doing to “stir up tensions”? And what does the teacher think Son is doing to stir up tension?
First, I would press them for better examples aside from rumors from other students because that, to me at least, has shades of the telephone game, where something someone said gets so distorted it has no relation at all to the original sentence. Since by your account, he has friends and enjoys doing things with said friends, I would question what they think a counselor would do. Most of the time, counseling is recommended for kids who have NO friends and refuse to do things with anyone (no activities, social events).
To have a 14-year-old boy who has some social issues is, well, normal, right? I mean, 20 years ago or more, no one would have been concerned if the boy had friends but made some social errors from time to time. Who doesn’t in ninth grade?
Once you have more concrete examples, then you can address it directly with Son. I would take him out for ice cream or coffee, shooting basketballs or whatever he enjoys doing, and just mention one or two incidents, that his teacher or principal is concerned, and get his thoughts on what happened. If there’s a clear pattern (like he defaults to sarcasm, for example), then talk about how that can be perceived by others. Then ask what Son could do differently in that situation. Help him think through how his own solutions would solve the problem.
For now, I would stress to the principal and teacher that you appreciate their concern—that you welcome their observations about Son—but since the school year is nearly over, you’re going to address this with Son yourself and see how he matures over the summer before considering counseling. You want the principal and teacher on your side even though you disagree with their conclusions.
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?
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.
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.”
How can moms feel better about their tweens and young teens? Here are 7 suggestions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: I was wondering what you would make of this situation. Two of my girls are a senior and junior in high school. Their report cards show that both of them got one grade in the low 70s, while achieving 80s and 90s in the rest of their classes (they each take about 9 classes). So all in all they did pretty well, except that they both failed one class (46 and 24!) in a subject taught by the same teacher (who teaches one subject to the seniors and a different one to the juniors).
Both are conscientious and take school work seriously. Does this reflect the teacher or my kids? I have parent teacher conferences coming up, and I’m trying to decide how to broach this with the teacher.
A: It could be a bad teacher who simply goes through the motions and doesn’t care if kids get it or not. Or it could be a good teacher who’s teaching a harder subject that the girls maybe thought it would be easier and haven’t applied themselves or asked for extra help until it was too late. I’d ask each girl separately why they think they did so poorly in this class. Just listen without comment, then talk to the teacher.
I would approach it with the teacher in a way that was more puzzlement on your part than questioning the teacher. Something like: “I see that Junior/Senior have been having some struggles in your class, which is unusual for each of them. I’m wondering if you can shed any light on might be the reason. They are both hard workers but I’m concerned they may not be understanding the material or having some other issue/concern that’s hindering their learning.” Then follow up with, “What can Junior/Senior do to improve their grade?”
Of course, a good teacher will respond with an answer that will be helpful, and provide steps for the teen to take to improve, such as after school help, additional online resources/practice problems, etc.
A bad teacher will shrug and say it’s not her fault if kids can’t learn.
Also, talk to some other parents with kids in the same classes too and see if it’s a class wide problem or not. Then you’ll have more info on how to move forward with the girls.
Follow-up from parent: At the parent-teacher conference, the teacher was quite baffled, actually. And so are my girls. We’ll get to the bottom of this, but I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, seeing how well they’re doing in all their classes and how hard they’re working. They get home at six every day, and don’t stop with the homework until they go to bed (they go to a bi-curricular school, so it’s academically very rigorous).
But your approach really helped me approach the teacher in a neutral way, which is exactly what I needed!
Q: Are teenage girls just horribly disagreeable? Right now, I have a really hard time liking mine. I know my husband is having the same problem. We love her, and we try to support her in healthy ways, but being around her is a real trial. When we take her places, she manages to look or be miserable or make someone around her miserable.
Yet we feel like including her in the family is important. She will either dilly dally getting ready and be the last one in the car, talk nasty to her little sister, be disrespectful to her father or me or just be depressed and droopy. Any suggestions or know a place where I can buy a time machine and fast forward to her at age 30?
A: I don’t think you really want to miss these years, even though things are not going well in your relationship with your teenage daughter. I hear your frustration and can also see your daughter’s hurt as well. Teenagers don’t always want to be disagreeable, but it can be the easiest emotion—after all, it takes much less effort to be nasty than it does to be thoughtful.
The teen years in general have gotten a bad rap, but while there can be rocky patches in any parent-child relationship, for some reason, parents can be much less tolerant of such behavior in a teen. Hello, remember the toddler years? How the little darlings drove you crazy with their wildly swinging emotions and emotional outbursts in the most inappropriate places? The teen years are similar, given how many changes a teen goes through physically and emotionally and mentally. That’s not to give your daughter an excuse to behave as if she’s the only one who matters, but it should temper your own response.
What would make the biggest change in your home would be for you and your spouse to find more ways to express love to your daughter. I know, I know—she’s not exactly acting very lovable right now! But isn’t that the point? You might say you love her, but how do you show you love her?
In other words, you need to pile on the kindness, the love, the connection just because she’s your daughter and you love her. Once you’ve re-established your relationship with her, then you can start to address some of the behavior. Right now, she can’t hear what you have to say because you’ve lost that connection—you even admitted you have a hard time liking her and wanting to be around her. She can sense that, and of course, she doesn’t want to be around you!
I’d like to assign you a little project that I think will bear good fruit. This will take some time, but with patience, you can reconnect with your daughter. You need to surprise her with your love, without any expectation in return. Start by writing down at least 10 things you love about her. Then for the next 10 days, share one of those things with her each day in multiple ways, both with words and with deeds. If you love the way she always uses earbuds when playing music on her computer (that’s thoughtful to others, right?), then tell her directly that you appreciate her thoughtfulness, buy her a new pair of earbuds, upload a little cash to her iTunes account, or ask her to play you her favorite song of the moment.
This won’t resolve itself overnight, but I think you’ll start to see improvements within a few weeks. It might not be with her behavior—it might be that your own heart has changed toward your daughter.
I walked through the living room and sighed as I noticed my 12-year-old daughter’s blue denim jacket laying crumpled on the floor by the front door. “Oh, that girl,” I muttered. I picked it up and something fell out of the pocket. A book of matches. What are matches doing in her pocket? Is she smoking? My heart started beating wildly, as my imagination reached into the future and I envisioned her smoking for the rest of her life. My fear turned to anger. I wanted to make her see how wrong she was.
Then I remembered how just a few months earlier Darcy had accused me of consistently overreacting to her. I had to admit she was right. I felt insecure when she cut me off emotionally through her disobedience or pouting sessions. I thought my anger would force her to see her lack of wisdom. Yet, it only created a wider wall of misunderstanding between us. I had told her I would tone down my responses, and this was a chance to put it in action. I took a deep breath and began rehearsing how I would approach her.
Throughout the day I prayed, Oh Father God, help me to ask questions instead of accusing her. Please make her tell the truth and be open to receiving my input. I couldn’t control how she reacted to me, but I could restrain myself.
Later, I asked her about the matches in a calm way, giving her the benefit of the doubt that there was some benign reason for them. She confessed she had smoked with a neighbor girl several times over the summer. Somehow I kept my composure and didn’t even raise an eyebrow. I continued to pray for God’s power. We discussed the disadvantages of smoking, and she said she didn’t want to continue smoking. I was relieved but wary, wondering if she could resist her friend’s bad example.
Neither of us raised our voices and the conversation didn’t end in a disagreement or misunderstanding. For once, it seemed like she hadn’t overreacted–because I hadn’t overreacted. I thanked the Lord.
I realized I’d over-reacted in the past because it felt like things were getting out of my control. But I didn’t have to control my daughter. I could trust God to work in her life, even as I responded calmly and with godly reason.
If you identify your over-reactions, you can change. Make a new commitment with new purpose to remaining calm and trusting God.
Today, years later, my daughter and I have a fabulous friendship, adult to adult. I truly look back and see that incident as one of many turning points that laid a foundation for a wonderful relationship.
Q: My 13-year-old son has taken to holding our entire house hostage at bedtime if he is upset about something. He will bang on doors, wake his brothers, and be mildly destructive. For example, last night he began this behavior because I wouldn’t let him keep his phone in his room. After I took the phone, he began a 40-minute tour of belligerence. He finally calmed down but refused to get in bed and slept on the floor.
He is now a wreck today. Because I told him he would lose his phone for a week if he didn’t stop his behavior, I am anticipating more trouble tonight. He will continue to make everyone miserable until he gets his way. This morning I tried to talk to him and let him know that if he realized he made a mistake last night and would acknowledge that, we could reach a reasonable compromise. He instead dug his heels in more about “punishing” me tonight for taking the phone.
He’s a very intelligent and otherwise well-adjusted boy. I hate seeing him so angry and consumed with revenge for perceived slights. It’s not fair to his father and me and his younger brothers to be subjected to these tantrums. I absolutely don’t want to give him the phone back, but our house needs sleep.
A: “You cannot negotiate with terrorists” is an oft-quoted truism that has applications to child rearing because children can be little despots of their own, as your son’s outrageous behavior has shown. To wit, he is throwing massive temper tantrums that has everyone in the household cowering in fear of his next one.
You said it yourself that he is acting like a terrorist by his tantrums, so there’s only one course of action if you want any hope of stopping these over-reactions. However, it won’t be easy. By your own admittance, “reasoning” with him isn’t working—and it won’t because teens aren’t logical and therefore cannot be reasoned with.
The time for talk has ended—now’s the time for action. And by action, I mean something so big, so bold, so strong, it will become family legend. It will be referred to with awe and respect. In short, it will provide the much-needed wake-up call for your son.
Gird your loins, batten down the hatches, and prepare for battle. Your actions will, without a doubt, create the mother of all tantrums. Your son will not like this one little bit and he will show you. But stand firm. Stay the course. Repeat that you are doing this for his own good, for the good of all the kids, and for the good of your household. You are helping him to regain self-control, but the process will not be pretty.
Now that I’ve scared you (being prepared for the reaction is essential!), here’s what you do: Kick him out of the garden. While he’s at school tomorrow—and with absolutely no warning at all!—strip his room of everything: games, toys, books, electronic equipment, clothes. Room should then resemble a military barracks. Box up all the nonessentials and store offsite if possible or in a highly secret and inaccessible part of the house. You will return a week’s worth of clothes (as plain and boring as can be!) to his dresser. Then take the door off the hinges and store off site too. He’s lost the privilege of having a door since he can’t be bothered to treat doors kindly.
As for his phone, well that’s immediately sold or returned. That’s gone for a good long time and not having it in the house or available at all will send that message loud and clear.
When he comes home and sees his “new” life, he will inevitably ask why. To which you say, very short and sweetly, “I’m sorry dear. This is your life for now. I think you’d better get used to it.” Then walk away without making promises that if he behaves, he’ll get stuff back. No, you let him stew in his own juices for a while. When he tries to argue, smile and shrug but don’t engage. This is essential. You don’t negotiate with terrorists! You don’t have to talk to him about this again.
However, you do have time to cook his favorite meals, include him in family discussions and outings, and fill his life with kindness, without expecting the same in return. Shower him with love just because he’s your son and you love him.
Then you wait. If he’s as smart as you say he is, he will figure out that he needs to have a major attitude adjustment and correct the course. But it might take several weeks or even months for that to happen. You can do this, You must do this. We are all rooting for you to succeed!