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Helping Kids Thrive in Middle School or High School: Parenting through Opportunity and Challenge

girl looking into cameraSo much is changing all at once for teenagers—their bodies, feelings, brains, perspectives, identities, relationships with others, and more. During early adolescence most kids begin to spend more time with friends than with family. They can appear to reject their parents’ values, and seem not to need or want much by way of their parents’ time and attention.

Early adolescence (11-14) is a time of vulnerability and possibility, and whether they realize it or not, young people need their parents as much as they did as toddlers. Kids are moving toward independence, but parents still have an enormous role making sure they are safe, and increasing their chances of creating happily productive adult lives for themselves. Here are ten suggestions to help your teenager flourish:

  1. Be available. The transition to middle school or high school can be tricky, and your child may need more reassurance than usual. Be available to listen, spend time together, provide quietly invisible support, or actively engage in addressing his concerns.
  2. Establish and enforce reasonable guidelines. This is a period when your child’s ego is fragile. Treat her with respect and understanding, but also be ready to stay firm, and keep her safe if she goes off the rails.
  3. Yield control. You can avoid power struggles by allowing your tween or teenager to make as many decisions as possible. Unless you anticipate serious long-term consequences of an impending decision, provide guidance only as requested.
  4. Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. This can be hard for parents, but is essential if you want him to grow into a responsible, competent, confident adult. For example, accept that he’ll fail a course if he doesn’t do his homework.
  5. Support her developing intelligences. Middle school is a time of rapidly changing, often confusing, and steadily escalating intellectual, social, emotional, and sexual demands. Encourage your teen to process her experiences with others, and help her make sense of what’s happening. Be alert to the possibility of bullying, whether online or in the real world.
  6. Help your child develop good coping strategies. Be honest about what works for you, and what doesn’t. Help your child identify when he’s feeling stressed, and chat about options he might find useful for dealing with his stressors.
  7. Make time for physical exercise and outdoor activities. Exercise and time outdoors are two of the most valuable tools for physical and psychological health. Encourage your young person to integrate these into her schedule.
  8. Support extracurricular interests. Whether it’s music, public speaking, volunteering in the community, athletics, or something else, pursuing an interest can provide excellent opportunities for developing competence and confidence.
  9. Help your child find balance. Be a positive role model, and support your child in establishing better habits concerning sleep, nutrition, recreational activities, and social media.
  10. Be a thoughtful advocate. The more your teenager can take on her own advocacy role, the better. Allow her to solve the problems she can, but be ready to work together to resolve troubling situations at school, home, or elsewhere.

We address all of these ideas in detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as in our blogs and published articles. See www.beyondintelligence.net

And for additional information:

Inside Your Teenager’s Scary Brain, by Tamsin McMahon (Maclean’s, January 4, 2015)

Age of Opportunity: Lessons Learned from the New Science of Adolescence, by Laurence Steinberg

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey

Kids Now  A Canadian organization offering extracurricular skill-building programs for students in middle schools.

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Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman 

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Beyond Intelligence for Book Clubs and Discussion Groups

front cover1Beyond Intelligence works well for different kinds of book clubs and discussion groups. For example, Oscar Peterson Public School in Mississauga is running a series of lunchtime meetings around the book. Toby Molouba, who coordinates this group of teachers, tells us their meetings are generating enthusiasm and stimulating lots of discussion in the community. You’ll see below an adapted version of their schedule of meetings.

We are happy to help you create a plan for your own group, whether you have more or fewer meetings, or different interests. You can invite us to attend one of your sessions—if at all possible, one of us will try to be there!

Beyond Intelligence also makes a great gift for the parents on your list. If you act quickly (December 8), you’ll be able to catch the flash half-price sale at House of Anansi: http://houseofanansi.com/

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