Teenagers. They are their own species, aren't they? I should know. I used to be one. :) And now I have three of them. My oldest, my only daughter, is eighteen so we have made it through a myriad of ups and downs together. I've learned so much and now I am in a position to help other teenage girls through my calling at church. My husband works with the teenage boys in his calling.
I honestly have to admit that about six years ago when I first began this path as a mother of a teenage girl, I thought it would kill me. Literally. I honestly didn't know if I would survive it. But now that I look back I see the growth... in me... and... in her. And I wouldn't trade even one up or one down for the lessons I have learned.
I look around at the teenage girls in my community and I feel such an array of emotions when I see them. Love, respect, awe, inspiration, compassion, sympathy, sadness, and joy. I wish I could put a protective bubble around them and keep them safe from all the darts that are constantly thrown at them. But that would be counterproductive and they would never bloom into the women they are meant to become. So I will just have to help them along, one at a time, when I am in a position to do so.
I just wish I could get every girl and young woman to see themselves the way others see them or the way their Heavenly Father sees them. I wish they could see how important they are. How beautiful they are. How strong they can be. I wish the world would quit tearing them down and making them feel worthless or ugly. It isn't right and it isn't fair. I wish every girl, young woman, and grown woman could see her worth.
I used to beat myself up all the time. I told myself that I was too ugly, too fat, too short, that my teeth were ugly, that my hair was too frizzy... etc, etc. etc. But then, a few years ago, I decided enough was enough. It hasn't happened overnight and I still have negative dialogue with myself from time to time, but I have come a LONG way. And you know what? I love myself. And I am happy. And I'm not just saying that. But it took time, effort, and a conscious choice to be positive instead of negative. And if this Type A, perfectionistic, border line OCD woman can do it, ANYONE can do it.
This is what finally helped me to see. To open my vision. It was my daughter's 8th grade year. She is my oldest. I've always been a little bit hard on her, probably because she is my oldest, but probably mostly because of my personality. She really struggled through junior high school. It was so rough. But it is rough for EVERY girl that age. It is a hard time... hormone changes, awkward bodies that don't do what you want them to, growth spurts... You aren't a little girl anymore, but you aren't a teenager either. You don't know who you are or what you are supposed to be. You are learning how to put on makeup and how to fix your own hair. How to dress in a style that is YOUR style. It's rough. I remember.
So she was feeling pretty bad about herself. Her dad and I weren't helping things. We just kept pushing her. We were too critical of her. We probably yelled too much. (Any yelling is too much, but we were yelling a LOT then.) We didn't know how to handle this new time with a teenage girl. We were fighting with her and she was fighting with us. We were just as frustrated as she was, trying to learn how to be parents of a teenage girl while she was trying to learn how to grow up. We were doing all of the wrong things and making mistakes like you wouldn't believe. So my husband and I had many talks about what we should do. We said lots of prayers asking Heavenly Father what we should do to help her grow up. We recognized that what we were doing wasn't working. In fact, our behavior was making her behavior worse. We realized that if we wanted HER to change, to be happy, to love herself, to be confident, it would require US to change first. So we made a conscious choice to do things differently. Things got better. Of course, we weren't perfect and made and still make all kinds of parenting mistakes, but the changes we were making were helping.
This is what we did. First thing - we decided to stop criticizing her. Criticizing her didn't help things. All it did was make her feel bad about herself. It took a conscious effort to be aware of the things that came out of our mouths. We also started to focus on her strengths. We had a family home evening with all of our kids and told them that from then on if they wanted to try something new, we would encourage and support them as best as we could. They could play one sport per year if they chose and it could be of their choosing. They could be in the band, orchestra, or choir. They could be in student council. Whatever they had a desire to try. If it was within our budget of course. We counseled them to find their talents and strengths. If you have a desire to learn something new, TRY IT! What do you have to lose? If you try it and love it, then you've found one more thing to make your life happy. If you try it and hate, you can move on to something else. But at least you will KNOW that you don't like something or your not good at something and you will never have to wonder if you should have tried. You won't get through your life with a bunch of "what ifs", you will have a life full of "I knows". Learning what your talents are is a good way to conquer low self-esteem. Giving them the latitude and permission to fail is important too. Then, if they do fail at something it won't devastate them. They will be able to say, "Oh well! I'm not good at that. That's okay. I'll try something else!" It gives them courage to continue on, even after failure and to not give up.
So my daughter came home and said that she wanted to try out for the 8th grade basketball team. Instead of being negative or saying no, we let her present her case and told her we would think about it. The practices were at 6:00 in the morning. We live 20 miles out of town so that meant I would have to leave our house at 5:30 am. Then drive the 20 miles to drop her off and then drive the 20 miles back home. Get in the shower, wake my boys up and then leave the house again and drive the 20 miles back to town again at 7:30 to drop my boys off at school and then I would have to go to work. It would be quite a sacrifice on my part. It would increase our fuel bill in our vehicles by about 30% and would require less sleep on my part. My husband and I talked it over, prayed about it, and felt like we should say yes. We decided it was worth the sacrifice.
It turned out to be the turning point for her. She loved basketball and made the team. She made new friends, which she desperately needed. She was getting regular exercise and going on trips. She felt like she had finally found something for her. She only played basketball for two years and decided after her 9th grade season that basketball really wasn't for her. She ran for student council at the end of her 8th grade year and has been in student council all four years of high school. She was even her Sophomore class president. It turned out to be her thing. But basketball was what gave her the confidence to believe she could try. It was the stepping stone she needed to grow and find something that was the right thing for her.
I've learned so much from this experience. This is what I wish every parent or guardian could do for every child:
* LOVE them for who they are. Don't try to change or mold them into the person YOU want them to be. Let them be who THEY want to be.
* ENCOURAGE them to try new things. Help them find their talents and strengths and then help them to accomplish their goals. Sacrifice your time, energy, and money if needed to help them grow. Do whatever is within your power to help them to succeed. But... use wisdom and don't let them be involved in so many different things that they become overburdened and overwhelmed. Encourage them to get good grades and do well in school and make that their first priority and then let extra-curricular activities come second.
* TEACH them about what is right and what is wrong. Teach them to be kind. Teach them how to be healthy and how to take care of themselves. Teach them how to be independent. Teach them by being a good example yourself.
* DISCIPLINE them when they are in need of it, but then afterwards, show forth an increase in love. Try not to discipline publicly. Discipline them privately so they are not embarrassed in front of their peers. Set clear limits and follow through with fair consequences that fit the behavior.
* LISTEN to them. Don't judge them for telling you their thoughts, worries, hopes, fears, or selfish wants. Let them talk first. Give non-judgmental advice if they are seeking advice. The more you do this, the more they will trust you and will ASK for your advice more often.
* RESPECT them. Respect their opinions. Respect their space. If you give them respect, they will give you respect. Teach them to have respect for other people. Teach them about common courtesy.
* REWARD their good behavior with praise, a date night with mom or dad, or their favorite dinner. Build them up in any way you can. Help them to feel like they are special - because they are!
We still have a ways to go before we've raised all of our kids, but they are well on their way and I love them with all my heart and soul. I am not a perfect parent. My kids are not perfect kids. But we are happy. We love our kids and our kids love us. I'm still learning and I will be learning my whole life, but so far, this strategy has been working for us. Raising kids is hard. Especially in the world we live in today where they are surrounded by bad influences, drugs & alcohol, pornography, abuse, and broken marriages. But I still have hope for our future. I have hope because of my faith in Jesus Christ. So I will focus on raising my children to be lights in this dark world, because soon they will be the leaders in their homes, communities, and workplaces. Our children are the hope we have in our future. So, as long as there are children in this world, I will do everything in my power to build them up, to help them to find their lights within. We all have a responsibility here if we want to make our world a better place to live.
*** I started this post with teenage girls in mind, but as I got through my thoughts, I realized this applies to boys as well. It also applies to younger children, not just teenagers. Hence the title of the post.