Tag Archives: tweens

Questioning Your Parenting: Part 2

196px-Jamini_Roy_-_Mother_and_Child_-_Google_Art_ProjectAbout eight years ago I stood in a funeral line for the son of one of the best people I know, Mac, whose young college-aged son had just killed himself. Mac and I worked together in the local hospital, and he was a wonderful, wise mentor for me as a young, new physician. I’ve never known anyone calmer, more patient, or more accepting than Mac. Unpretentious. Giving. Compassionate. Steady.

I’d just popped out a beautiful, feisty, little baby girl not too long before. The irony was not lost on me as I stood in that long, snaking, horrible line. Not on Mac either, I guess. When I finally made the front of the funeral viewing line, Mac looked in me (yes, in me, if that’s possible), with his face in jagged zig-zags, held together simply by sheer human spirit and said: “They don’t tell you about this part when you’re making babies, do they, Terri?”

No, Mac. No, they don’t.

So let’s carry on with my questions. Remember, I’m writing this as a mom who likes to think (probably over-think, as my kids tell me, “Enough already, Mom!”), not as a physician or healthcare provider. Don’t use anything on my site as authoritative knowledge or for treatment. I know you won’t. Onward.

Are you heeding warning signs that counseling or medical intervention is needed, such as suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, or anger that is physically manifested?

I know that teens are often unhappy and restless for no good reason at all! But sometimes there are signs of something deeper, and we can’t just expect frightening adolescent behaviors or words to go away on their own. The earlier we intervene, the easier it is to change faulty mindsets, perceptions, and reactions.  There is NO shame in getting professional help, even if you’ve got one of those “good kids” or everyone thinks you’re the “perfect family.” When a child talks about suicide, get help. When a child acts out sexually, get help. When kids are doing drugs, get help.

Conversely, maybe it’s the adult in the situation who needs help. The things that I’ve seen or heard tweens, teens, and twenty-eens do or say blows my small mind. They can be enraging! If you find yourself losing your temper physically, get help. Even if you find yourself being verbally abusive in response to them, that’s no good. Strong people get help.

Despite the chuckling of seasoned parents, some kids don’t make it. Some parents can’t handle it. Get help when you need it.

Are you asking the hard questions?

One thing I learned early in med school is that you can’t be afraid to ask patients the hard questions. How much alcohol do you drink? Do you use crack, meth, or other drugs? Do you have sex? With who? Do you ever think of death? Hard questions that must be asked to take care of patients best. (I once saw 75-year-old woman using meth. Surprise!)

You THINK you know the answers your kids would give to hard questions, but you MUST ask. Start young. Start early. (But it’s never too late.)

Yes, it’s uncomfortable. It gets easier.

Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a girlfriend? Is there someone you like? Are you feeling sad inside? Have you ever been asked to take drugs? Do you even know what drugs are? Do you think you’ll start your period soon? Are you scared about your body? Are you scared about your feelings? Do you know God loves you? Are you scared God doesn’t exist?

Ask the hard questions.

Are you listening?

Kids talk all the time. I can still hear mine talking even when they’re not talking!

Talk, talk. Listen. Chatter, chatter. Listen. Whine, whine. Listen. Blah, blah, blah. Listen. Problem, problem! Listen.

Problem, REAL problem, Mom!? I’ve got this daughter. I’m listening. I’ve been listening the whole time. 

Listen even when it hurts your head. You’ll be surprised at how a listening environment will bring your children to you at the tough times. You don’t listen in the easy times, you won’t be trusted with the tough times.

Are you yourself seeking support and encouragement?

If you open up to the right people, you’ll be amazed at the powerful insight that those who have walked this path before you have gained. Even when it comes to heavy stuff like pre-marital sex and suicidal thoughts, these parents may surprise you with what their kids told them or did when they were growing up. They’re a treasure chest of support.

Are you letting go of your attachments?

I have an image of how I want my daughters to be, whether that’s how they are or not–or even can be. It’s based on what I think is important, what I think is important to survive and excel in this world, and ideas I’ve picked up from my church background.  I’m attached to certain ideas for them. How they dress. How they talk. How nice and kind they are. How their education is. What activities they’re in. Who their friends are. How organized they are. If they go to college. What they go to college for. And so on. These are MY attachments overlaid on my children.

Not too long ago I was thinking about what kind of dad Gandhi had been, as he clearly endeavored for peace and was considered a “good” person. Reading about his relationship with his children made me stop and think about how I impose my attachments on my children.

In my brief reading, I saw Gandhi struggled significantly with his first son, who ended up with a very sad, tumultuous life. Gandhi imposed his acquired “enlightenment” standards on his family, which was not necessarily wrong, as he had exceptionally good reasons. But sometimes things just don’t fit, and by holding fast to his pretty severe principles, Gandhi alienated his son.

I believe children can tell when it’s YOUR attachment coming through, not necessarily what is best for them.


I’m about done, I think. I had a few more questions I explored but have run out of room to elaborate on:

  • Are you creating consistent boundaries and sticking to them?
  • Are you working on rooting out negative self-talk in the house?
  • Are you being creative in your parenting?
  • Are you providing spiritual guidance?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the “I Hate You” post, the more scientific “Adolescent Brain” post, and the two “Question” posts. I’ll be back to food and bacteria next, I believe.

But I’ll leave you with just a few more questions, because, remember what Mac said: “They don’t tell you about this part when your’e making babies, do they?”

In what ways can I make myself more approachable? In what areas are my kids interested in that I could show a little more interest? In which areas could I look for more information to try to understand them better?


Photo credit: PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38370457

Questioning Your Parenting. Part 1.


Mph. Agh. Ouchie. Eeeeow!

Huh. Tragic. There’s no stuffin’ ‘em back in now,  is there!? You are stuck on the parenting conveyor belt for the . . . rest . . . of . . . your . . . life.

(Speaking of conveyor belts, have you ever seen Lucy’s Famous Chocolate Scene? The best Lucy episode ever. I watch it about once a month and never fail to belly laugh.)

I love parenting. I love my kids. I love my life. It’s all good. However, my oldest kids have transitioned to this tween period, and I’ve had some new challenges thrown at me that I guess I just didn’t anticipate, partly because I figured homeschooling would buffer us and partly because I try to keep in-tune with my kids. Guess that’ll show me, won’t it!?

My last post was on the science of the truly changing adolescent brain. Simply amazing! However, dealing with that anger-prone brain lacking frontal control can be simply exhausting! So I’ve been working on some questions, with the help of friends and family (and you), to help me through this time. Take a gander…

Do you need to unwire your buttons?

Something your kid did or said got you mad, sad, angry, guilty, resentful, or hurt? Then your buttons have been pushed! A friend of mine received wonderful button advice when raising her now grown son:

“When my first-born son turned 12, a friend of mine told me, “You are no longer entitled to have any buttons. Remove them all from your psyche. If you have any buttons HE WILL FIND THEM. You are then to say, ‘Oh, why thank you, son, for pointing out that I have a button there, I will remove it forthwith!’”

What are some commonly wired buttons?

  • The Guilt Button
  • The Disrespectful Kid Button
  • The This Parent is Being Taken for Granted Button
  • The Character Attack Button (Often pushed when you’re called controlling or a liar–or worse, a controlling liar!)
  • The I’m Being Lied to Button
  • The Messy Button
  • The My Kid is Lazy Button
  • The Gimme’ Button (Usually pushed when a string of “needed,” unrelated things comes out their mouths in the course of less than 5 minutes)
  • The I Hate Running Late Button
  • The Trying to Be Fair Button (Usually pushed when one kid gets something “special” and the others think they never do)
  • My Kid’s Become a Brat Button

Got any of those buttons? Got any others? In the heat of the moment, I’ve been trying to pause and internally give a name to the button my tweens are pushing, making a visual image of me unwiring that button (Sometimes I visualize the button on my head, sometimes on my heart, and sometimes in my stomach, whatever, weird, I know.), so it can’t be a source of angst for me anymore. Then, I am better at ignoring what needs to be ignored, calmly (more calmly, anyhow) addressing what I can address at the time, or running upstairs as fast as I can so I don’t say meaner, nastier things than my kids.

Bottom Line: JAM your buttons so they don’t have anything to push.

Does your child need alone time with you?

One daughter kept asking for some alone time with me. I was like, “Yeah. Yeah. We’ll get that.” Honestly, I was thinking, “Uh. It’s a family of six, one being a toddler. You don’t get alone time with me. Doesn’t homeschooling count?” But I made some time to go out with her and each other older child alone.

Every family is different, but I think one of my big problems was the time consumed by a toddler. Split parenting (That’s the term for parenting kids in different stages of life, I guess.) does not seem to be my forte. Guess it doesn’t matter what the reason, I learned that kids need a bit of alone time with me. So I’ve made a point to go out for coffee with one, go shopping with another, leave the others at home while I drive just the one to a practice, and so on.

Other moms have shared with me that alone time can be as simple as a trip to the grocery store with just one riding shot-gun, working at a boring, tedious chore side-by-side, or lying beside them late at night right before bed (when you’re really exhausted and simply want to sleep). I can vouch they seem to talk more right before bed when I need toothpicks for my eyes.

Do you take it as about you? (It’s not about you ,even if they try to make it about you.)  

It’s easy to take this challenging time as a reflection of your parenting and allow yourself to have a pity party wondering what YOU did wrong. How could YOUR child treat YOU so badly? What did YOU do? How did YOU ruin YOUR child for life? How did YOU create such a villain?

I know my kids are loved, provided for, safe, nurtured, rarely yelled at, rarely criticized, have some laundry and dishes to do, have appropriate boundaries, still have a few wants (as in they don’t have everything), and so on and so forth. I know my kids aren’t bullied at school or being picked on by a teacher. And yet, my kids are still turning inside-out on me, often accusing me of their suffering! One’s a melancholy and the other is a viper. (Unless the guidance counselor–that’s me–has dealt with two crying tweens, it’s not a complete day.)

So I’ve decided this time isn’t about me being a bad mom as much as it is about my kids learning to get away from a good mom. The best way for life to separate me and my kids is to make me unlikable to them—and them unlikable to me! (It’s working! Ha! “Go away! Come back with the grandkids.”)

Yet, I’ll nurse them (and me) along in their confusion and anger, proving to them that love is unconditional—but it can still get its feelings hurt! Nancy Rue, a writer of tween self-help books, writes that the numerous tweens she has interviewed want two things from their parents (even when they seem to push parents away): daily hugs and some time alone with them.

Hey. That sounds like it’s all about them!

Are you fostering independence?

What if they get smashed crossing that busy street? What if they browse bad internet sites? What if they get molested at a sleepover? What if they don’t choose their class college schedule right, costing you another thousand bucks or more? What if they major in art and live with you forever?

There’s no right answer, but if your kid is telling you she feels controlled and overprotected, it might be time to listen and start some negotiations. Each day of a child’s life should bring her closer in some way to independence from your home.

I’ve noticed they thrive better when I get them out of the house to a friend’s house or hanging out with another adult, helping them with a job or learning a skill from them.

To be continued . . . Next up will be exploring: Even good kids need help, letting go of our attachments for our children, and doorways without doors.




Scientific Parenting: They Are Losing Their Minds.

512px-Lobes_of_the_brain_NL.svgDefiant, tearful, melancholy, spiteful, indolent, idle, unconcerned, flippant, seemingly ill-bred and ill-mannered. Who raises that kind of child?

Well, I suppose I do. I didn’t mean to. I tried to avoid it. (Didn’t I?) I was kind. (Wasn’t I?) I defined boundaries. (Right?) I didn’t yell too much. (Did I?)

There is no doubt, when my tweens started crying, rolling their eyes, slamming doors, saying things I’d never heard them say before, and expressing dark thoughts, I momentarily lost it. I lost my parenting skills which I normally feel good about. I lost my self-confidence. I lost my cool. Who are these kids and who wants them for the next ten years?!

Today I was going to write about my favorite tips (so far) for raising tweens and teens, but science luckily intervened. While teeing up the tip post, I learned about some of the changes happening in the adolescent brain, reinforcing to me that I had to stop taking my tweens’ behaviors personally. I mean, I don’t take my toddler’s screaming and food throwing personally!

Toddler’s brains are undergoing major changes–growth, brain pruning, changes in connections. This calms down a bit in childhood only to pick back up again right before puberty (sigh), continuing through adolescence, which depending on the person can be defined as 10-25 years old (yes, that long).

So, my two oldest kids’ brains are physically and functionally whacking them out right now. What they need is not a beating, not a religious straight jacket, and not a pushover parent. They need encouragement, support, and reliability–and a parent with coping skills to give them just that.

Neuromaturation (Grow up, brain. Grow up.)

Adolescents (loosely defined as the ages 10-25) are NOT functioning on the brain I’m functioning on. From beards to body odors to brains, they are CHANGING. I’m going to reduce these brain changes to extreme oversimplification using some humor. Don’t try to talk to a neuroscientist using this information. And may my daughters and science please forgive me for manipulation of scientific facts. It’s for the promotion of survival of my progeny.

They are losing their minds. Yes. Literally. Brain gray matter grows just before puberty, and THEN about 1% per year is lost during the rest of adolescence! The body is pruning the brain’s neurons to make it a sleeker, more reliable, better functioning machine. (1, 2) So when you think they have forgotten everything you taught them—who knows?! Maybe they did lose that neuron and its connection. Or when you’re daughter makes an eye roll, maybe it’s a little twitch from another neuron being lost. Ha!

They’re animals. Well, kind of. It is commonly (although rather mistakenly) said that our limbic systems are part of our primitive, animal-like brain and our frontal cortex is “what makes us human.” Raw, gut-reaction emotions are generated in our limbic systems and then sent to the frontal cortex for tailoring of thoughts and responses with logic, rationalization, and planning. Well, research shows that adolescents have exceptionally active amygdalas, parts of the limbic system, and they have less connections from the amygdala to the frontal cortex when compared to adults. So I jokingly say that teens and tweens are functioning on their primitive, animal brain because their actions are guided more by their amygdalas (their emotions) than their frontal cortexes (logic and reasoning). (1, 3) They’re our dear, wild, little animal pets:

“Dogs and cats have different brains than humans. We should not think of them as furry people complete with human drives and emotions. Instead, we should look at them as having more child-like emotions and embrace their innocence. Only through compassion and understanding can we truly have a mutually beneficial relationship with our pets.” (4)

They need Prozac and 5-Hour ENERGY Shots. Their neurotransmitters and the receptors that are acted on by these neurotransmitters are in flux, including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and melatonin.  We all know friends and family members who take anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleep-aids due to “chemical imbalances” in the brain. Well, adolescents have changes in these same chemicals as a normal part of their life. So should we be surprised by their moodiness and sometimes erratic behavior?  Dopamine changes make them more prone to risk taking. Serotonin changes make them more susceptible to mood swings. Less development of the inhibitory GABA system makes them prone to excitement. High melatonin levels actually induce them to sleep more; they’re not just lazy. I mean, they are. But they’re not. Please don’t buy them 5 Hour Energy drinks. (5, 6)

When I say they need Prozac, I’m not in earnest, but knowing that their neurotransmitters are indeed not as stable as they will become (hopefully) in adulthood helps us to be more accepting of adolescent emotional lability. HOWEVER, the fact of the matter is, suicide is the third leading cause of death in kids between the ages of 10 and 24, so we MUST be vigilantly aware of this risk and NEVER underestimate adolescents’ susceptibility to mental disorders such as depression. (7)

They literally see you mad all the time. You’re not mad all the time, you say? Adolescents don’t see it that way. A study shows that they see facial cues differently and are apt to misread facial expressions as anger, even if they’re not!  Surprise=anger. Fear=anger. Shock=anger. Sadness=anger. Perplexed=anger. One reason our teens are volatile and angry is because they think they see anger on faces all around them, including yours. Couple the hurt of one, thinking that people are angry with them all the time to two, weak connections to the frontal lobe so they can’t rationally modify their responses (and throw in some significant neurotransmitter flux)–and you’ve got a disturbance in the force. A real force to be reckoned with. (2)

Remember the time your daughter huffed and burst into tears when she asked you if you liked her outfit?  You barely even had time to turn around and look and she had decided you couldn’t stand it! Or the time your son asked for $20 to head out with his friends and you were trying to remember if you even had a twenty in your wallet–and he blew up in your face because you’re always judging him? What? 

Sorry. You looked angry. Even if you weren’t angry, perception is everything in a relationship.

No excuses

Adolescents between the ages of 10 and 25 are not neuromaturated. In some physically defined, scientifically objective ways, their brains simply are out of control. No excuses here. Simply an underscore of the importance for parents to keep it together and be in control of their own emotions and responses. To find ways to be an effective parent. To not take it personally.

Thanks for learning right along with me. Next post, I hope to look at some ways to keep my head about me so I don’t lose my tweens over the next 23 years. With my oldest at 12 years old and my youngest at 1 and ½ years old, I’ve got years ahead of me.

And please, get help for you and your kids if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t try to go it alone.



1. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/index.shtml
2. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html

3. Should the science of adolescent brain development inform public policy? Steinberg, Laurence. American Psychologist, Vol 64(8), Nov 2009, 739-750.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.64.8.739

4. http://www.petbehaviorsolutions.com/uploads/Emotions_in_Pets.pdf
5. Maturation of the adolescent brain. Arain, Haque, et al. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013; 9: 449–461. Published online 2013 Apr 3. doi:  10.2147/NDT.S39776PMCID: PMC3621648
7. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db37.htm

I Hate You

Frankly, my kids are killing me.  I don’t get it.  Why do the stories from seasoned parents come with smiles, jokes, and rolled eyes?  That’s dishonest.  Kid stories should come with rants, cursing, shrieking, sobs, and tears.  And what’s up with this?– “Oh, you’re so lucky you’re homeschooling.  You’ll avoid so many issues.”  Pft.  We can compare spec sheets if you want.  I think we’d find that despite different outward impressions, we’re working with the same vexatious operating system.

The Tricky Language

I have four daughters, two who are definitely “tweening” it.  One darling, “betwixted” daughter declared two days ago that I just have to learn the love language of “I hate you”.  (And quickly– before one of us ends up back at Granny’s house seventeen hours away.)

It’s quite a tricky language, fraught with peril.  I responded, “Anything for you, girl.” And I got right on that.  I typed out a little cheat sheet for myself of what I consider the most common phrases, showed it to my oldest daughter, and said, “Hey!  What do you think?”

I earned an A+ in my new language!  Now, I just have to practice, but with the ample opportunities, I’m sure I’ll be an expert before the day’s up.

Language Confinement

They say that certain languages are better for communicating certain ideas.  For example, medical science is usually communicated in English due to the specificity of the English language and  its words.  I don’t know, but all of my medical doctor friends from abroad tell me they studied medicine in English.  Amazing feat, eh?

I propose that tweens are dealing with language confinement.  Their language, which my daughter calls the hate language, just doesn’t have enough words and concepts to communicate effectively to us.  I can’t tell you how many times my girls have said to me when I ask them to describe how they’re feeling in a tense moment, “But I don’t know what I’m feeling!”

My girls honestly can’t express what they’re feeling.  Ugh. Trust me.  I’ve tried the active listening technique, and I sat there for over 30 minutes in silence waiting for a response.  (You have no idea how hard that was for me.)  The girls just don’t know what it is they’re feeling.  So what do they do?  They resort to their simple language of hate.  This hate language is clearly more limited in its abilities to express emotions.

Hate Language Phrases

I’ve translated some hate language phrases I hear in my house.  Sometimes a phrase might mean something slightly different, depending on the situation and daughter (see–it’s an inexact language!), but you’ll get the idea.  Stop!  Don’t bristle!  Interpret!

“I hate you.”   (Because I love you so much I don’t know how to separate myself from you.)

“It’s your fault.”  (I feel bad when I mess up but I’m so glad you try to protect me and help me and do something for me.)

“Katherine’s family is better.  (Because I want a cell phone with Snapchat and a Facebook account and to keep my phone in my room at night.)

“I hate my sister.”  (Am I okay?  I don’t feel special.  Does anyone love me for me?  I am an individual, not just a piece of this family unit.)

“Why are we always the first ones to have to leave?”  (I’m so glad you bring me to fun get-togethers.)

“You always take her side.”  (I feel so insecure.  Maybe I did pick this fight.  But I did it because for some reason I feel yucky inside and I want everyone to feel yucky–yet I want to be loved like a baby.  Why does my head feel so crazy inside, Mom?  What’s happening to me?  I can’t control how I feel anymore.)

“I need clothes.  I need camp.”  (I’m afraid I don’t fit in.  I feel so awkward.  I’m afraid I’m being left out.)

“I need you.”  (See me as a person, mom.  Make me feel special like you used to.)

Will We Laugh Too?

Ah.  Sigh.  (Big sigh.)  From poop to vomit to picking noses to the language of hate.  We parents are in it deep.  Is it funny?  I suppose looking back, when things turn out okay in the end, we’ll be able to laugh like those seasoned parents.  But seriously, I’ve seen things not turn out okay before. So although I don’t plan to stew and think I’m the controller of my kids’ destiny—which I do not believe–I’m learning that there are things I can help with as a parent and things I cannot help with.  I’m not a psychiatrist, and I’m not trained in psychology.  So please don’t use anything I write as professional advice.

But if something I write or wrote helps you not bristle and to communicate better with your tween, I am happy.  (It’s SO easy to retort to their hate language with our own hate language.) And if you know of something that helped YOU to not bristle and helped you communicate better with your tween, it’s NOT nice to NOT share.  PLEASE!  THROW ME THE ROPE!  🙂

The next post will be 12 tips on raising tweens.

You’re an awesome parent.  Don’t bristle, and let it shine.  Use your words.