So, let’s face it; raising children is no joke. I have thought about the many ways I was going to do things with my kids. I thought about all the plans, the lists, the how to’s. But, then there is the reality. I cannot ever remember thinking to myself about the emotional and physical toll of parenting.
The last few months we have been faced with allowing our kids to spend an inordinate amount of time on social media and electronics. Even writing that sentence makes me cringe.
Due to the circumstances of home schooling and literally not being able to go out of the house I have not put limits on their “screen time”. (I do not need any lectures so I thought I would insert that here)
Now, a lot can come from the lengthy time spent on their phones and video games.
I was not prepared for the outcome of some of that screen time. I monitor their phones (yes, I trust my kids, yes I raised them “right”, yes I believe they follow our values and morals; but they are still kids ).
I was not ready to see the amount of vaping, drug use, physical altercations, racism; etc… There were some days where it nearly broke me. Was I even a kid once? Did we all do this? It’s just not recorded anywhere? I don’t want to be judgmental but, I also was wondering where their parents are? How do I address these issues? Do I address these issues? If it was my kid would I want someone to tell me?
I was not ready for all the emotions that came with what I was seeing. So, let me backtrack a second. I worked for twenty-five years in the juvenile justice system. There was nothing that I was seeing that I couldn’t fathom. But, now it was maybe someone I knew through friendship, the kids school sports or events or acquaintances etc…
I can only tell you that I had a really long talk with my kids to reiterate our expectations of them. I had to be careful to let them know I was not expecting “perfection” but, there are things that are not negotiable. Just last year we were still talking Barbie dolls and who got on the baseball team. How did we get to sex, drugs, and fighting?
- If you are mad/sad/angry don’t do anything in haste
- DO not EVER send photos of yourself to anyone in a compromising way
- DO not videotape fights; wait do not attend fights that are arranged
- I expect you home for dinner with the family on MOST nights ( do not dismiss the importance of this )
- Love yourself first and hard, the way you think, feel and treat yourself is the compass for the world
- DO not think there is anything you cannot talk to us about ( even if I am angry or upset we are still your parents- knowing is better than not knowing) Let’s solve it together
- Read a book; yes I know a “novel” idea, but seriously since the end of school have you picked up a book?
- Social exclusion/isolation- it has been hard for me to not orchestrate times for the kids with their friends. What do I mean? On a daily I probably ask my son; so what are your friends doing? Why aren’t you outside? Want me to call someone to see what they are doing? He always says “mom they are doing what I am doing they are on their video games”. My daughter on the other hand is always making plans and doing stuff.
- See #8 how do we teach them not to be “mean” or not include others. It was brought to my attention that a particular girl; did not want my daughter invited places due to jealousy. They are 13! Where does that come from? I will be honest it bothered me and I was pissed. So I asked her about it- she said “ mom I do not have FOMO you said people sometimes won’t like you and it has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me “ “ I don’t care I feel bad for her she is like that; I am fine don’t worry”. OKAY THEN! We oftentimes are more upset about a situation then our kids. It was a good lesson for me to stay out of it. The people who fiercely fight for you and want to be around you are your people everyone else is expendable. Do not waste your time on them.
- Also, see #8 I started to worry my son was not going anywhere because I was made aware of kids calling each other derogatory names and videos of kids fighting on line. I went into mama bear mode and thought maybe he wasn’t hanging out because of this. Did someone call him a name? Is he being harassed? I drove him nuts asking a hundred questions. He just wants to be able to play baseball and basketball and there was no opportunity to do that so he said he wanted to stay home.
- What you put out on social media can bite you in the ass later. Be careful with your words they hold a lot of weight. Future schools and places of employment research their prospective applicants. Teenagers are impulsive and do not realize the ramifications of their actions at times.
- Be mindful of how you would like to be treated by others and respected and do the same unto them
- DO not attend every argument. Just because someone is trying to engage you in a back and forth or get you to fight with them- you do not need to attend to their bullshit!
- I try to tell myself this is a phase they are 13 (almost 14) and 15 years old. We have a lot of responsibility here in the next three to four years before the world considers them “adults “ ( gasp)
- Resist trying to make everything right for them; I am guilty of this but, I can tell you from experience it is a mistake. They have to learn to work things out for themselves so they can be adults who can negotiate situations
- ‘It is always okay to say NO
- Know the importance of earning what you want and going after your goals
- Words my mom would utter and I would never believe “ I trust you, but I don’t always trust others” I have said this more times in the last three weeks than I care to admit
- You are judged by those you hang out with – I am sorry but, it’s true. So choose wisely
- I cannot always fix things, nor should I but I will always listen. You are growing up in a much different and complex world than when I was your age. We weren’t always privy to what was going on around us and I was sheltered. Access to the internet has made a vast difference.
- Respect your elders and authority ( we have had this talk )
- Fill your kids with so much confidence and self-esteem that no one can make them think any differently!
- When my kids see this they are going to crack up but to sum up my list of things I say- because they literally make fun of me ( in a joking manner; I think?)
Don’t do drugs
Don’t drink alcohol
Don’t smoke cigarettes
Wear your seatbelt
Don’t have sex until you are old enough to understand all that comes along with it and then wait ten more years (I actually say this)
You don’t owe any one an explanation of how you live your life (except me of course)
Always make sure it’s wrapped up
I do not care where you are or what you are doing if you need me call me! I will come ( even if I kill you later) But, I will be there; even if it is not where you said you were going to be ( although my mom always said I need to know where you are really going in case I ever have to really find you)
Do not talk to strangers- yes you are not a baby anymore- still don’t do it
I will NEVER send someone you don’t know to pick you up do not ever go anywhere with anyone
FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT!
With all this being said, I never thought I would have to have this conversation with my kids at this age. I thought maybe we had a little more time. We don’t talk to them NOW. I can bombard you with facts and statistics about the age most pre-teens and teens take their first drink, smoke their first cigarette, or have sex. But, you can look that up!
I’ve been a therapist for 25 years working with teens- it is never too early to have a talk with your kids! It takes a village to raise a child and a lot of prayers!
Deborah Levine-Powell is a psychotherapist in New York, where she works with teenage girls who are victims of abuse and trafficking. She is a wife and a mom to a tween and teenager. When she is not working, you can find her engaged in PTA activities, a leader at Girl Scouts, having fun with her friends and family, while serving up hot soulful dishes in the kitchen.