Worry Proofing Young Teens

Why do we need to worry proof young teens? What do they really have to worry about anyway?  Has it really been so long ago that we have forgotten what it feels like to be in middle school?  I think it is much worse now than it was when I was growing up. The pressure to fit in has always been there, but there are so many other demands on these middle school children that it is a wonder to me that any make it through unscathed.  Common worries for young teens include:

  • a parent dying
  • divorce
  • grades
  • bodily injury
  • the future
  • gender issues
  • race issues
  • social issues

That’s a heavy load of worry.  The increase in worry during this developmental period coincides with an increased awareness of the world and a decrease in egocentrism. While these processes are generally positive, they are not without consequences.

As a parent or teacher there are several things you can do to help worry proof them.  It is important to nurture their positive self-determination. Teach them how to acquire control over their own lives.  Steer them to rewarding friendships.  Model optimism for them, even in the face of challenge and adversity.

teen girlsWe all know that friends become very important for most preteens.  Having friends can be a direct measure of popularity and can provide a sense of security.  Getting with the wrong crowd can have devastating effects.  Each of these peer groups also have their own code of conduct. Teaching them to maneuver the intricacies of social responsibility with the expression of their own thoughts and values is very important.

This is not the time when being different is embraced except by a very few individuals. If they are going to be trying to mimic the mannerisms, speech, dress, behavior, consumerism, music, and fads of their peer group we need to make sure that their peer group is one we can tolerate.

Although they may be critical of everything you do, remember that they are watching closely.  This is a time where they will become very aware of any discrepancy between your words and your behavior. If you want them to be optimistic, you must be optimistic.  If you want them to stand up for themselves, you must stand up for yourself. If you want them to be kind, you must be kind.  Perhaps even more difficult, if you want them to be honest, you need to be honest.

Unfortunately, we can’t really take away all of the things that these young people worry about. These issues are real.  As parents and mentors, we need to remain open to hearing what they have to say on these issues, even when we don’t agree. When they ask your opinion, answer honestly.  If they don’t ask your opinion — say very little.

Remember what it felt like to be that age.  How did the adults in your life handle your concerns?  Which responses helped you to relax and enjoy life and which responses only increased your anxiety and worry?  Tell them to “ignore it” when it really bothers them is the same thing as telling them that their feelings are wrong.  Do you think they will tell you when something is bothering them again?  Probably not.

It can be very easy to get caught up in their drama and trauma.  Try to avoid jumping in too soon unless safety is really an issue.  Give them the chance to handle things if they can or talk them through solutions if there is one.  Be ready and available to listen and empathize.  If the worry seems to be interfering with friendships, academics, or other activities consider professional intervention.

It Is Not Their Fault

parents holding child on lapI have posted about this general theme before, but I have had more reminders about the topic recently.  I was definitely resistant to this belief when I was a young parent, but there really is quite a bit of evidence that adults are responsible (at least partly) for the behavior problems of children.

I often hear teachers complain that children are disrespectful in the classroom.  They talk when the teacher is trying to lecture.  Every week I am exposed to adults that continue to talk while the pastor is leading the congregation in prayer, when the choir director is giving instructions, and when my boss is trying to lead a staff meeting.  My first thought is “how rude”.  My second thought is “it is no wonder that our kids behave the way they do.”

I’m not coming to this topic from a position of sainthood.  I can be rude, thoughtless, and careless too.  My parenting practices have not always been stellar.  I’ve talked negatively about my children’s teachers, gossiped about people, talked down to others, and failed to take action when I probably should have.  I’ve also done all of those things under the close scrutiny of my children. This is a fact that I am certainly not proud of.  Hopefully they didn’t see this as my primary mode of dealing with the world.

In our media-driven society they also had quite a few other unsavory models for adult behavior.  On television children who are sassy, rude, and break rules are everywhere and that behavior appears to be acceptable.  With that sort of modeling, I have to say that it isn’t the kids’ fault that they are exhibiting so many behavior issues.

While I firmly believe in therapy and medication for children with psychological and behavioral problems, I also believe that such measures are not likely to ever be enough if the adults that children are exposed to can’t learn to control themselves. If we want caring children, we must be caring adults. If we want respectful children, we must be respectful adults. This is more than superficial respect.  Children are smart enough to know the difference. It is not enough to act, we must be smart, respectful, caring, or whatever we desire for them to be.

I am fully aware that some children have problems that are not the direct result of parenting practices.  Some children have brain abnormalities that also contribute.  As I mentioned earlier, our children have many role models other than parents.  As children get older they also have an increased share of responsibility for their own choices.  However, on a societal level I stand by my assertion that the adults are responsible for much of the state of our youth today and we must do something about it.

Over the next few months I hope to offer some suggestions about how to turn this around in your own home, church, neighborhood, or more globally?  Any suggestions?

Graciousness – A Lost Art?

Does anyone value graciousness anymore?  Can you define it?  Merriam-Webster offers several different definitions including Godly, kind, graceful, and merciful.  The ones that interested me most were marked by tact and delicacy and characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit, and the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding.

Lifestyle Lounge offers some lessons on graciousness. They suggest that graciousness is about how you make the other people around you feel.  Here are some of their suggestions.

  1. Take a compliment with a smile
  2. Small acts of understanding lead to greater acts of graciousness
  3. Do not fake
  4. Be forward with your help. Don’t want for anyone to ask you for it.

Consider these 10 Characteristics of a Gracious Person from www.godhungry.org.

  1. A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise
  2. A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another
  3. A gracious person is always thanking others
  4. A gracious person doesn’t monopolize the conversation
  5. A gracious person doesn’t try to play “one up-manship”
  6. A gracious person pays attention to people
  7. A gracious person desires to say what is appropriate
  8. A gracious person looks out for the comfort of others
  9. A gracious person understands that she is not indispensable
  10. A gracious person constantly points out the good that he sees

The question that pops into my mind is “Where has this quality gone and how do we get it back?”  I actually know a few people I would describe as gracious. While it may come naturally to them now, I suspect they had role models who exemplified graciousness and that it was also specifically taught and rewarded. I see examples in our current culture which promote competing values that make graciousness more difficult.

What is the consequence associated with the absence of graciousness?  Francis Bacon said, “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.” Gracious individuals attract others to them.  The absence of graciousness would lead to separation and isolation.  Graciousness invites cooperation and compromise. The absence of graciousness leads to argument, division, and conflict.

I suspect that the lack of graciousness is cultivated by fear and anxiety. We, as a society, are so worried about making sure we get “our share” or that we “won’t have enough” that we cannot even see what is happening. What are you modeling for your children? Do your children see you thanking others, even for the small things?  Do they hear you thanking them?  How often do you embarrass your children?  When your children talk, do you give them your undivided attention or do you use it as a time to play on your phone or multitask?  Do you focus on your blessings and all the good things that are all around you or do you focus on problems?

I am really not advocating a society in which we ignore problems, fail to correct errors, or overlook deficits. I do believe that if we are engaging in activities with graciousness as a characteristic of who we are, it can have a positive effect.  Remember, graciousness is the use of tact and awareness of other people’s feelings. It suggests that their feelings are at least as important, if not more important, than our own.

I am concerned that graciousness is becoming a lost art. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I plan to work harder to re-introduce graciousness back into my life.  Are you?

Book Review – Mars and Venus in the Bedroom

SEX. Now that’s a word that gets your attention. Men and women spend great amounts of time thinking about sex, wishing for sex, having sex, and complaining about sex. Few couples have the skills to discuss, request, or negotiate sex successfully.  Couples also don’t appear to understand why sexual expression is so problematic.

Would you like to learn about sex and passion, increase your sexual confidence, rekindle passion, and keep romance alive?  If so, consider reading Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray.  This is an older book but continues to be relevant today.  Dr. Gray’s books are easy to read, but be forewarned, he writes about sex, sexuality, and intimacy with the same candor that you would expect of a weather report.  Perhaps that is the important first lesson of this book.