Tuesday, August 04, 2015

#musesofamom: How to Win the Battle for Your Teen's Mind

On a morning not long ago, I read an online group post that the teenage son of a well-known person in that community had committed suicide.  This young man was from a family of faith and strong beliefs. It breaks my heart when any parent must suffer the death of a child.  There is no high school graduation, no more birthdays, and no way of knowing how the Lord planned to use his life.  The sorrow for the family will be ongoing and the numerous “whys” may never be answered. 

Even more heartbreaking was that the last post from this teen on his Twitter profile, the day before he passed said only: "goodbye."

The day before. 

I know no other specifics of this tragedy and why it may have happened, but it is said that he struggled with depression.   

To learn the warning signs of teen depression, visit
http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm
Do not hesitate to get help from a professional!

As a parent, how can I protect my sons from invisible enemies that assail them from all sides?  What measures can I make that can make an impact as they navigate through the muddy waters of today’s society?

Two and three decades ago, the teenage world consisted of going to school, hanging out at friends’ homes, working a part time job, and attending youth group.  We struggled with self-esteem issues, peer pressure and dating disappointments, yet it was in a much smaller world where we dealt with them. Conversations with friends were in person and real time; we couldn’t imagine going very far away from home. 

Today, teens deal with many more pressures and obstacles that make those years extremely difficult.  They still do the same activities and have the same issues as we did, but they must also deal with doubts of self-worth, depression, bullying, dating violence, identity issues and even more. My husband and I feel as though we are constantly at war to protect our boys from such adversaries.  

Parents have a harder time identifying what their teen is thinking and keeping track of where their teen is going, yet young people can share anything and be anywhere in the world with just a swipe or touch on a screen.
According to a recent Pew Research Study, 73% of teens aged 13-17 today have smart phones,1 and with smart phones come unlimited data plans.  In total internet use, 92% of teens are going online daily, with 56% going online “several times a day.”2 

Where is your teen going?  From this same study, 76% of teens report that they are going to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Google+ and Vine. New platforms gaining popularity are Tinder, Kik, Pheed and WhatsApp.3 Our minds spin with the options our kids can access via their phones, tablets and computers. 

One thing to consider is that with these online outlets, teens are connected to more than photos, videos and chats.  They are exposed to viewpoints, opinions, and communities that may not be aligned with family’s values and beliefs.  Social media is in reality a part of pop-culture, an environment which has an incredibly impressionable effect on the thinking and opinions of today’s young people. 

(I addressed this in my post, How Today's Pop Culture Influences Our Kids

However, it is possible to pull your teen away from negative social media influences and to help establish them with strong family values. The guideline we use in our home is Engage, Edify, Educate and Example.

Engage
Creating authentic communication with our boys is not easy, but learning to be consistent has really helped us.  “A vital part of winning this war for the heart and mind of our teen is real communication and quality time with them. This is a critical and irreplaceable piece of the battle. We must regularly invest intentional time and interest in our teen, and in those things that are important to them.”4
In order to really communicate with my kids, I have to work on my listening skills, not my talking skills.  I’ve learned that asking questions is helpful for encouraging dialogue; however, sitting back and being quiet is then required.  No judging is allowed.  Practicing this with my oldest, our conversations together have become a safe place for him to share what is going on in his life.  As my strong-willed child, this is happy victory for me.

Edify 
Critical milestones such as celebrating birthdays, going with them to get their first driver’s license, meeting their dates and driving them to their first job interview are moments that make a significant impact on a teen’s life. Being with teens at life’s important moments demonstrates how much they are loved and valued.     

We should not assume that a teen does not want to spend time with their parents!  In fact, “teens not only want to spend time with their parents, they become angry and frustrated when they can't. The teenage years are the most insecure that children experience. They badly need the presence of their parents, both as company and as mentors.5

We grab opportunities to spend time together as a family.  It could be errands followed by lunch, a road trip, the movies or somewhere local for exploring. Family time our teens have helped to plan creates a more enjoyable experience for everyone, in addition to unforgettable memories.

Educate
My husband and I use openings in conversations to impart wisdom from news events, political issues or things from our daily life. If we have done well with engaging and edifying, this step becomes easier because our boys will actually stop to listen.    

Recently my oldest has started discussions of his own with us as a result from something he has read on Reddit.  When we have listened and not devalued his opinions, it has opened the door for us to share our own opinions and values.     

Recalling past conversations to re-emphasize a point has also helped us mentor. We may make a statement such as: “Do you remember that discussion we had on . . . ? This is a good example of what we talked about.”

We commend them on good choices but also allow them to learn consequences from not-so-good choices while they are still under our direction.  Coaching them through the good and bad choices will reinforce them as they make harder decisions in the future.

Example
Regardless what a teenager says, parents are and will be the most important and influential relationships in his or her life. From CBN.com:  “…parents have a lot more influence than they realize. Not only are they [teens] listening, but more importantly, they are watching you closely and modeling their lives after you. Whether you believe it or not, parents are the biggest influence in their teens' life.”5 
We agree that we present a good example to our boys, but that also means we have to own up to our mistakes.  The expression “Do as I say, not as I do” is not going to work with teens!  

Stories do seem to work well. The boys poke fun, but they enjoy hearing what it was like when we were their age. (“How did you survive with only three TV channels?”) We share our mistakes, what we learned and in some cases, share a laugh at our own expense.   

With social media as a one of our parenting battles, limiting our own social media, along with theirs, is necessary. (Taking to myself here!) If we overindulge ourselves with social media on our iPads, have our smartphones at the dinner table and answer a text while in a discussion with them, they will assume that is acceptable practice too.

While the war we have with the world for the hearts and minds of our teens will never seem to end, we can learn how to have weapons at the ready in order to defend our family from the enemy.  To keep our teens from turning toward the world rather than to family, we can actively listen, express to them their true value, encourage their opinions and be an authentic example.  Establishing a safe place within your family will inspire your teen to keep their heart and mind at home.


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Notes
1. Pew Research Center. (2015, April 9).  A Majority of American Teens Report Access to a Computer, Game Console, Smartphone and a Tablet. Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015.  Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/a-majority-of-american-teens-report-access-to-a-computer-game-console-smartphone-and-a-tablet/
2. Pew Research Center. (2015, April 9).  Mobile Access Shifts Social Media Use and Other Online Activities. Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015.  Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/mobile-access-shifts-social-media-use-and-other-online-activities/
3. J Stern. (2013, October 13). Teens Are Leaving Facebook and This Is Where They Are Going. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/teens-leaving-facebook/story?id=20739310
4. J. Subers. 5 Strategies to Win the Battle for Your Teens Heart.  (n.d.) Retrieved July 26, 2015 from http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/ages-and-stages/teens/5-strategies-to-win-the-battle-for-your-teens-heart
5. A Parent’s Influence. (n.d.) Retrieved July 26, 2015 from http://www.cbn.com/family/Parenting/BattleCry_Influence.aspx
6. Dr. S. Wooding. Teens Need and Want Family Time.  (n.d.)  Retrieved July 26 2015 from http://www.calgaryschild.com/ages-and-stages/46-teens-need-and-want-family-time

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