Preface: This blog post is a result of a blogger grant from Mom Central Canada. A lot of the thoughts presented are from my conversations with my 13 year old daughter and represent her view points, as well as my own. My hope is that through sharing this post that other kids and parents can take our experiences and find a resource of their own.
Watching what was once my little girl grow into a young lady gives me a real sense of pride. My daughter is a smart girl who has goals for her life and career and she really is a good kid. At the same time, I have a sense of fear as she embarks on her teenage years. All those goals could easily become derailed due to choices she makes during her teenage years. At the same time, I want her to experience what it means to be a teenager. How do we get through the teen years in 2011 and beyond?
Kids have access to things I never saw or even heard of during my teen years in the 1980's. Living in rural Ontario, I was once lulled into a false sense of security. It would be ignorant of me to think that just because we live in a small community that things are better or safer here.
In our situation, grades seven and eight are just completing their first year being housed in our high school. I admit that I was very concerned about the transition and how the kids, as well as the staff would handle the change. To ease my mind I took the opportunity to speak to school staff and to see for myself how they planned to keep the elementary children separate from the high school kids. Sadly, my daughter has reported to me nonchalantly that she has seen a boy so stoned that he was passed out in the stairwell, she heard that a high school student brought a knife to school, and that one of her friends lost her virginity to a grade 10 boy, and then there was a sexting incident where a high school girl had sent her (then) boyfriend pictures over the phone, which he later posted on facebook.
Honestly, I didn't know how to respond to or handle these situations. It became my mission to figure out resources for my daughter (and her friends) to turn to, to seek support and help if needed. I wanted my daughter to know that she isn't alone through the teenaged years. It became pretty apparent to me that with the access that kids have to technology that we have today, that times have drastically changed from the way they were when I was a teenager.
First and foremost, I want my daughter to feel that she can tell me anything. I want open and honest communication between us, yet, the reality is that she may not always feel comfortable with that. That being the case, I want her to have places to turn if she needs to.
School SupportI have found my greatest resource to be the principal representing the elementary aged children. On several occasions I have turned to her with questions and concerns. I am very pleased that she has been very receptive and helpful. She took all of my concerns seriously and reacted quickly to them.
Other resources in the school are student services, a nurse (though she is very part time), and in our case a full time OPP officer. The officer is very visible to the kids, spending a lot of time speaking with them. The day of the knife incident someone went directly to the officer and the situation was quickly dealt with.
MentorFinding an older teenaged mentor is important. We have found great kids who are leaders in our community. Find these kinds of kids in leadership roles, such as swimming instructors, or student dance instructors. Older kids can easily relate to what the younger teenager is going through, as they were most like just there and can offer support and suggestions.
Health Care ProfessionalsSpeak with and have an open dialogue with your physician or nurse practitioner. I have found many resources through them that I wouldn't of otherwise known about. There are people who teenagers can speak to in a more formal appointment like setting, who are experts in the field.
Community Minded AdultsVolunteer adults who are in leadership roles in the community, working with teenagers (ie. coach of a team). I have found, for the most part that these adults are working with young adults because they want to see them succeed and give them well-rounded opportunities, and are more than willing to lend a listening ear.
Finding the Right ActivitiesSurround your teenager with others who are like-minded. Help your child to find activities which promote your ideals. Friends are really important to teenagers, but finding the right friends is key.
Kids Help PhoneKids Help Phone is a 24 hour resource for teenagers to seek immediate assistance and support, and they can phone toll free anonymously. Or they can post their questions online.
The key for me has been to try my best not to be judgmental and open to what she is saying. Times are very different from when I was her age, and I need to be accepting of that. Parenting is a tough job at any age, but tween and teen years can be critical. I think it is easy to get influenced and lead astray which these days could result it catastrophe. While I would like to think I have all the answers, I know the reality is that I do not. As a parent I think we need to set an example, give them options and always keep a mindful eye.
I would love to hear the thoughts of parents who have made it through the tween/teen years, or are working their way through it themselves.
Thank you to Mom Central Canada for the very generous blogger grant and for inspiring me to speak with my daughter and look deeper into what it means to be a tween/teen in 2011.