Thursday, July 23, 2015

5 Things We Need to Remember When Raising Tweens

Y'all. Middle School is hard. Just thinking about my middle school years makes me want to run and hide. I remember how difficult it could be, trying to fit in, wondering if a boy liked me, trying to decide which of my "friends" were going to turn their backs on me, trying to resist peer pressure. I do not ever want to relive those days. Not. Ever.

Except now I have a middle schooler. (Well, I've had one for a year now...) And I feel like I'm sometimes reliving my own junior high days. My middle schooler is delightful, most of the time. But there are times when I am on the wrong end of one of her attitude outbursts and it nearly sends me into a tailspin. I know that she is caught between being a child and being an adult and she's trying to figure out how to act, and I have to remember what being a tween (we weren't called "tweens!") is really like.

Kids are being introduced to so many things at such an earlier age than in the past. I shudder to think about the things that Brienne has probably encountered; things I didn't know about until I was in high school or college. It is really scary for me as a parent and I try extremely hard to keep our lines of communication open. I want her to come to me with questions about sexuality and drugs and peer pressure. I may not want to answer those questions, but I definitely want to be the one she runs to. I want to be able to give her a biblical perspective on everything she is exposed to.

And she definitely has a lot of questions. One night she asked me several and I had to really think about them before answering. I know that I have to stay close to God so that Brienne can see Him in my actions and in my reactions.

As I think about raising kids, and especially how Brienne will be an adult one day very soon, I've come up with 5 things to remember when raising tweens:

1) Not everyone is going to like you all the time

This year, Brienne had a teacher that did not like her. I'm not exactly sure why this teacher didn't like her; it could've been because Brienne was extra obnoxious or extremely talkative. Maybe it was because Brienne asked her at the beginning of the year if she went to church anywhere, and this teacher isn't really too keen on God. I don't know why she didn't like Brienne and the reason really doesn't matter. Some people just won't like you, no matter what you do.

It took me a long time to figure this out. I suffered from a people-pleasing disease for most of my life, always wanting everyone to like me. I would change my opinions and actions depending on which group of "friends" I was hanging around at the time. I was in my 30's before I realized exactly what I was doing! I am now a recovering people-pleaser, thanks to my friends and our church in Clarksville, TN. I learned how to be real; how to be okay with who I am. It was not an easy lesson but it was something that everyone should learn. Teach your tween to be comfortable in her own skin, to love who she is, and to know who she is in Christ.

2) What goes in, must come out

I have to be honest. I just don't really know how to tackle this new world of technology. 24 hour access to anything you could ever want. We are very careful with what Brienne is exposed to. She has a phone but can't access the internet with it. She has an iPad but again, she can't access the internet. Her electronics are password protected - she can't even download an app without us! So I feel like we've got that covered. But what are we supposed to do when she is hanging out with her friends? Most of them have unlimited internet access. They can google anything or watch crazy videos on YouTube. Most of it is harmless, I get it. But some of it will get into your mind, and you will never be able to erase it.

Recently, "Pitch Perfect 2" was released in theaters. Lots of Brienne's friends were talking about how funny it was, so Peter and I decided to jump on the Pitch Perfect bandwagon to see what all the hype was about. We watched the first one and were horrified. HORRIFIED. It was so raunchy! I mean, don't get me wrong; parts of it were HYSTERICAL. But no way on earth would I let my 11 year old watch it. And can you believe that most of Brienne's friends have seen it? I just can't understand what their parents are thinking. But what really gets my goat ("gets my goat!" Who am I?!) is that Brienne's friends can pull up all the clips on YouTube. The things that she has been exposed to scare me. And these are just the things she has told me about.

We need to teach our children that what they view, what they listen to, it's all going to come out. It's going to become a part of who they are. We need to model good behavior (and this is difficult because sometimes I want to watch something that Brienne knows isn't appropriate). But we need to be adamant about teaching them to fill up with things that are holy and pleasing to the Lord. And then we need to take our own advice and fill ourselves up with those holy things as well.

3) It's ok to pray the hard things

To be honest, this is a hard one for me. I tend to want to pray for my kids' lives to go smoothly. I want everything to be great - I want them to have wonderful friends and an easy time in school and no exposure to peer pressure. You get the idea. But guess what? Our kids can't grow if they don't experience some difficulty. Think about the times when your relationship with the Lord was at its strongest. I know for me, it was during the hard times of life - infertility, failed adoptions, Jonah's autism diagnosis - that I felt the Lord's presence the most.

We have to be okay with praying hard things for our children. We have to pray that they will experience peer pressure and that they will be able to stand up in the face of it. That when a friend betrays them, they will handle it with grace and mercy. That when disappointment comes (and it will come), they will face it head on and will lean on Christ.

This past year, Brienne injured her arm and was unable to swim for a few months. Although this wasn't a major life-changing thing, it was devastating for her. As she dealt with this disappointment, I prayed that God would heal her arm. But I also prayed that she would learn patience as she rested, that she would learn to trust that Peter and I had her best interests at heart, and that she would trust that this was part of God's plan and that he would heal and restore her arm. Now obviously this "hard thing" was very small in the grand scheme of things, but I don't think it was insignificant. When we can see God being faithful to us in the little things that matter to us, it will encourage us to trust Him even more with the big things. So, mom, go ahead and pray those hard things for your children. And trust that God will redeem them!

4) We can pour an endless amount of energy into "good" things that don't matter

This is another hard thing to learn. There are so many "good" things out there to be involved in. There is nothing inherently wrong with sports or dance or music lessons or any other fun activity. In fact, in many ways those things help build character and teach a lot of life lessons. But we must be very careful not to let those activities interfere with our relationships with our family and friends and most importantly, our relationship with the Lord.

There have been times in the past when I was so overly involved with clubs and church activities (which are "good" things to be involved in) that I was too tired at the end of the day to tuck my child in or spend time with my husband. I was over-committed, and my involvement had become too legalistic. It caused me to lose my heart and lose my way. When I stepped back, particularly when we moved to TN and I took some time off from church activities and only participated in our worship band, I was able to allow the Lord to renew my strength and refresh my spirit.

We can forget which things are most important, which things should take priority in our lives. We need to teach our children that the Lord comes first and then our family comes next. Other activities won't matter in 25 years. It's great to have a hobby or be involved in something we are passionate about. Just remember what is truly important in life.

5) Above all else, we need to teach our children to love

In this crazy world of differing opinions and values, it is very easy to develop an "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude. We can become prideful that we aren't like "those" people and we can forget that "those" people were created in the image of God, just like we were. We need to teach (and model!) that just because we disagree with someone or we disapprove of how someone is acting, we are still called to LOVE. Love is the most important thing! How can nonbelievers ever experience a relationship with Christ if we don't love them? If we live prideful and hypocritical lives, we can't love others with the love of Jesus. Isn't that the whole point of this life anyway? To live for Christ and show others the love of God?

Loving those who are different from us can be hard. But we are called to do the hard things. And our tweens need to understand the importance of loving others. They need to learn how to sacrifice and put others ahead of themselves. We all need to learn that. Wouldn't our world be a better place if we truly loved those around us?

I know there are so many more things we need to remember as we raise our children into adulthood, but I think this is a good start.  I'm praying for each of you who read this. I'm praying that we all make wise decisions as we raise our children to be followers of Christ. I love you, friends!