Okay, Auntie Leila, we need your input!
My friend Jen and I have been reading your blog a while, and have benefited from your humor and down-to-earth advice on parenting. Particularly helpful has been your wisdom of parenting 12 -year-olds! ( I also love the “What Would Ma Do?” question!) [For the context of this question, see my post on how you might consider being less patient with your children.]
I have 5 children. Jen has 10. Our families, along with several other dear families in our community, have enjoyed raising our kids together, and our children have played countless hours in one another’s back yards while moms have had coffee and solved the world’s problems. Most of our close family friends also homeschool, and we are very blessed to have a community of mostly like-minded families.
Over the last year or so, we have seen a marked shift in the way that our children interact with one another, as many have crossed over into early adolescence. Flirtatious behavior, hurt feelings, insecurities and a concern for feeling okay and accepted have somewhat overshadowed the easy play times that our kids used to enjoy.
I realize that this is normal, as hormones rage and our children transition to adults. However, I am wondering if you have any practical advice for helping kids negotiate peer relationships, within the family setting, in a more graceful way during these years. Already, we largely go against the norm by homeschooling, and our kids’ peer time is usually, almost exclusively, at our homes, with parents. We are here to help, but sometimes I just don’t know how.
What is your best advice for moms with a house full of 11-15 year olds…their own and their friends’?
PS: Congrats on two beautiful weddings!!!
Thanks so much for writing! You are so lucky and blessed to have a wonderful community of friends. This is the way to raise children!
I think that your question touches on the big question of building the culture. Building the culture, when you think about it, is precisely the work of bringing children into adulthood! Every traditional culture has a systematic way that eases young people into their responsibilities.
Maybe this is what people mean by socialization, without realizing that conformity isn’t the goal — raising responsible, self-controlled adults is. You learn self control just the way you learn any other skill — by being put to little tests that don’t have a lot at stake, so that when the big ones come, you are ready.
A good start is to realize that you have to have rules and plans and standards for your teens, just as you do for your littles. You have to stay out of the picture more, giving them their freedom and time together, but you stay just as vigilant.
You are right — it’s healthy in young people to show interest in each other. It’s our job to channel it all in the right direction. Their environment matters. Is the TV where the bed is? Even if it’s just your guest bedroom that you’ve made into a TV room, that needs to be re-thought.
Better ideas: Bonfires and other outdoor activities, a rec room that’s not off the beaten path or never gone into by adults, contra dances and swing dances. Hikes and swim parties. Monopoly tournaments, Foosball tournaments — heck, poker tournaments.
I think it’s fine for them to find places other than home, gradually, as they get older. A local sandwich shop once in a while for some fries, hiking, bowling… but they have to be reminded how to act, how to show courtesy to the shop owners… and no pairing off.
They hate being told that it’s not a good idea to loll around, pair off, or engage in horseplay with the opposite sex or what have you — but they have to be reminded. Don’t let the attitude get you down. Have standards and voice them. Let them know that you want them to have a good time together as a group, and that singling others out makes the rest feel uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to let them know that you take their feelings seriously enough that you want to protect them from exposing them too early on in ways they can’t know the consequences of. And encourage your husbands to set the bar high as well!
The best thing, again, is to make sure there is some sort of plan for these get-togethers — games, a project — and fixing up their own get-together spot is a great project — meeting at the beach, etc. Guide them. They are like big toddlers whose playdates have to be managed, only with finesse.
When they get mad at each other, acknowledge that they might have a point, but keep their eyes on the big picture — we’re in this together, these are our friends, let’s take a breather, let’s overlook faults. Remind them that they can be just as annoying to their friends as vice versa. Remind them that these kinds of hurt feelings often arise because too much time is being spent together, or too much undirected time. Bored people or pointless activity leads to issues between friends.
Now, one problem gets to be that other parents have their own ideas, and you can get vexed with your own friends when it seems like they aren’t paying attention or don’t think something is important. But hang in there. It’s true that they have their moments of exasperation with us too. I am sure that some of my friends thought my girls weren’t dressed right at the exact same moment that I was throwing up my hands about how their daughters were dressed. I bet I thought their sons were being goofuses right when they were fed up with mine.
So do talk about it with each other. Parents really help other parents by saying no to certain things. When your friend wonders if that movie is appropriate, it makes you remember to check the movie out, and that’s a good thing!
But keep your sense of humor, and acknowledge that sometimes things won’t be exactly right. The main thing is to prevent the kids from being left entirely to their own devices.
Let your standards be known and don’t worry too much.
Hope this gives you some thought for now. Let me know!
God bless and a big hug to both of you,
Thank you so much for your personal response! I forwarded this to my friend Jen and she laughed out loud and declared “seriously! Has Auntie Leila been in our house? Cause she DEFINITELY understands what the scene looks like!”
I apologize for not responding sooner. We had a full house of company last week, and I have also been hosting my 2 dear nephews, ages 11 and 13.
Our house guests brought an 11, 12, 13, and 15 year old. So needless to say, your encouragement and wisdom was very timely. (So if you are doing the math, I had a houseful of children, ages 4 months, 6, 7, 9, 11, 11, 11, 12, 12, 13 and 15.)
After reading your email, I felt much more confident about talking to all of them about what was expected and why…with “finesse” as you say. But, I did ask the girls (privately) to wear their board shorts over their swim suits, and tactfully addressed not pairing off and reminded them about staying in the public spaces with my own children and nephews.
I also put much more energy than I ever had into keeping everyone busy. There were lots of Settlers of Catan matches, as well as Bang and Carcassone. We also picked all the peas in the garden and had a big “pea shelling” party, and endless games of 20 questions as we worked. The kids were regularly employed to prepare meals and do clean up.
My kids do this anyway, but it is something that I often excuse when we have guests. Not so this time, and it was a great time to hang out in the kitchen, enjoy one another, and be productive.
It sounds so simple, but making the transition from having all little kids who just need to run and play, to having big kids who need meaningful, somewhat guided activities, is a shift. It is also a shift because the pre-adolescent doesn’t think he needs moms input or guidance…and in fact, the knows it all much better than mom anyway. And, he can be quite convincing…especially if he is generally a very good boy.
One of the best things we did this last week was to gather our 9 and 11 year olds, and my 2 nephews, each night on our bed, after the guests had retired, to talk about they day. Those big kids still love to lay on mom and dads bed, and it really gave us a good opportunity to check in about the day and all the peer dynamics.
So, it was a good week. Thank you for your encouragement.
Wow, it sounds like great fun at your house! Wait for us, we’re coming! :)
Yes, you got it. And wow, you had lots of kids there! Good for you.
What starts to happen is that the kids, who have implicitly trusted you up to now, are suddenly gripped by the fear that you will make them do something that the guests will think is dumb. And of course, the guests are thinking that they will make a boo boo and look dumb. So everyone is lost.
It’s hard to pull it together and just guide them as you ought, but yet so simple once you do it. Then everyone feels relief and can go ahead and have fun! When you are confident, the kids sort of think, well, they seem to know what they are talking about, so we’ll try it!
I love the idea of gathering them on your bed for some comfy parent time — and I believe that guests who are staying a while should separate at night, including kids, so that everyone can really rest. It sounds like so much fun to let the kids “overnight” together, or maybe there isn’t much room to do otherwise, but after a while (like, one night) it will be a disaster — no sleep! The worst for interpersonal relationships is no sleep! We deprive our children of sleep and then wonder why they are such wretches!
I’ll be looking up those games, as we do have Settlers (which I always call Prisoners for some reason, I guess Catan sounds like a prison to me), and would probably like the others. This Christmas we played Ligretto till our eyes fell out of our heads, and some of us *cough – Sukie* got a little obsessed!
You are way ahead of the curve, at least my personal curve, when it comes to balancing fun, work, and common sense. That makes me happy and gives me hope for building our culture!