We have ten children. Five of them have brought us through the turbulent, confusing, emotional time of transition between childhood and adulthood, and so far we have all survived, though we have had our moments of doubt.
We thought we had it all together when our kids were under 12. Then, within three months of his eighth-grade year, our oldest son started dating a girl without telling us, got a black eye from a guy he had a disagreement with, and drove our car onto the lawn and knocked down our fence (the only casualty was the fence, thank God!). We panicked! It was like we didn’t even know how to parent anymore. And we had thought getting babies to sleep through the night was hard! Though we felt completely inadequate, we knew that it was at this stage of burgeoning independence that our son needed our guidance more than ever.
Our culture stinks at forming teens. It’s the truth. Young teens are exposed constantly to inappropriate images and situations. Gender roles are becoming more confused. Society expects less and less of them, so many teens remain immature and unchallenged. Parents must be proactive in forming their teens. It’s a tough job, but if you don’t do it, the culture will.
This is why the tween years are so important. Working on that relationship now will help you both to get through the turbulence of the teen years. Get ahead of the problem. Point out the hazards that are coming. Let them know that you are with them walking alongside. Give them the information that they need to succeed. Solidify their identity as a young man or a young woman. All of these elements are key.
There are many ways parents can invest in their tweens, but we would like to focus on one tool, which we call the “Growing Up Weekend.” This weekend is for a parent and child of the same gender to grow in relationship, doing things the tween likes to do, while giving the tween the information he or she needs to navigate the teen years successfully. The age of your child is up to you because kids are so different, but it should be held before “the storm” hits.
During this weekend, we take time to talk about the physical changes ahead, peer pressure, self-esteem issues, and most importantly, the facts about sex and its proper place in the life of a Catholic Christian. Sex is sacred and it can only be understood in the context of a family relationship. Taking time to give your child this information through your family relationship communicates its rightful place. Sex is not taboo – it’s sacred.
The Growing Up Weekend should be held at a place that your child enjoys. We try to give our kids a choice of where they’d like to go, within reason! Some of our kids chose to go to a beach, others chose the city, and others chose camping. What matters is that it is a place that you and your child can do fun activities like shopping, hiking, swimming or sight-seeing. You need to have lots of physical activities planned, especially with boys. Fill them up with love and attention so you can speak to their heart.
Over the course of the weekend, we listen to three or four talks about adolescence. Some resources we have used are Dr. Dobson’s Preparing for Adolescence or Dennis Rainy’s Passport2Purity. We listen to these talks with them usually while we are driving to our destination or while we are doing something like hiking, fishing, or cooking. It helps to be doing something, not just sitting across a table looking at each other!
Why is this weekend with tweens so important?
- It’s less awkward. When a kid is 10 or 12 years old, they are still innocent and likely haven’t experienced most of the challenges you will be talking about. An 11- year old feels grown-up when talking about becoming a man, while a 16-year old might feel talked down to.
- Starting early pre-empts lies and distortions. You cannot wait till their wedding day to talk with your children about sex. They need to have the truth so they can dismiss the lies that they will hear from our culture. You have to be the one to give true information to them, because the last thing you want is for your child to be naïve and gullible in the face of the lies.
- Information is power. Knowing ahead of time what is going to happen to his or her body and emotions make those changes easier to deal with.
- It communicates your investment in the relationship. Especially when you have a big family, it’s good to get away just to focus on one child. During the teen years, many times the relationship with the same-sex parent gets strained. This is exactly why that parent needs to be the one to do this weekend!
There will be moments when your teen and you will BOTH feel like failures, but you can prepare together for what is ahead. Yes, it will cost you time, money, and energy but it is worth it! God has given you this child in order to make YOU holy. No one in this world is better suited than YOU to guide this tween through the maze of the teen years.
For more information see the podcast below: Preparing Your Tween (and yourself!) for Adolescence at www.messyfamilyproject.org