It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.
**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it.
Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.
Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.
Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.
In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.
The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:
Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.
And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.
And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.
ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.
To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.
From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):
This show was overly graphic. … These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.
The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.
The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.
They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. …. the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?
So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.
But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.
Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.
Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s. Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.
Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.
The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.
Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.
I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.
As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.
In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.
* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.
May 3, 2017 | Categories: Advocacy, Alternative Medicine, Art, Attachment Parenting, FAQ, Homeschooling Resources, Lessons Learned, Mom's Health, Never Stop Learning, NVC, Parenting, Personal Growth, Rambling Thoughts, Reading, Secular Thursday, She said WHAT?, Socialization, Tech Savvy | Tags: attachment parenting, commentary, common sense, homeschool controversy, homeschooling challenges, life-lessons, methods, NVC, raising responsible adults, random thoughts, Secular Thursday, teen depression awareness, teen literature, teen mental health, teen suicide, teen suicide prevention | 1 Comment
So it’s that time of year again; when everyone posts their resolutions and goals for the new year. I’m not immune to the appeal of ‘starting fresh’ and making a grand effort to improve myself and my life – the changing of the calendar from one year to the next is a natural transition, and it feels good and productive to have goals. Last year, rather than making ‘resolutions’ for 2016, I went with an overall theme for the year. It was trendy a few years back, but I really liked that idea, and it worked better for me than having ultra-specific resolutions.
My theme for 2016, so you don’t have to go back and find that post, was ‘mindfulness’, which is basically the practice of living in the present moment (hard to do when anxiety disorder is part of your life, which is why it felt like something I needed to work on). That’s still one of my favorite words, and I find that it will continually be on my list of ‘things to work on’. It wasn’t a total success, but, as my music teacher is often saying, ‘progress, not perfection!”. In that light, I do think that having an overall theme was easier to maintain than a list of ‘rules’ to have to follow.
Here’s a re-cap of my goals in that theme from last year:
meditation – I practice on my own, but I really would like to make it part of my week to go to the group sit at St. Mark’s. They meet twice a week; I want to make at least one of them.
health – movement and community – walking with playgroup; with the kids; family health; focus on cleaner eating
relationships – tend those I care about and cut loose those I don’t
I didn’t actually make it to St. Marks for meditation with the group, well … ever. The timing wasn’t something I could ever work into my schedule. After giving it some thought, and making my personal meditation practice a priority, I didn’t feel the need to practice with a group as much. Now, I’m content to continue my personal practice in private. As for simplifying… well, that didn’t work out either; at least not in the KonMari way. I did do some downsizing and re-organizing, but nothing that could be categorized as a clean sweep in the KonMari way. We finally got our storage building moved into our backyard, so that alleviated a lot of the clutter inside the house, but there’s more (always) to be done. It’s a process, so while I didn’t exactly meet my original goal, I don’t feel like that was a total failure, either. Health/Nutrition/Fitness are always going to be a focus – more so in the coming year with the decline in my parents’ health, but that’s a long story best told over coffee. I went walking with the group once, and tried to go with another group, but that didn’t work out according to the original plan, either. I did purchase a new bicycle a few months ago, so that’s what I’ve been doing, because I enjoy biking more than walking. The kids have their bikes, too and we ride together – another bonus. This year, I want to get a bike rack so we can take our bikes to local biking trails and ride (or maybe we can just work on increasing our distance and ride to a park that’s not too awful far away). As for relationships, I feel like I’ve been stretched too thin to effectively be a friend to some of the people I actually do care about. There are definitely a few friends who have become long-distance friends that I need to make more of an effort to connect with.
This year, I am going to go with the same one-word theme, but more action-oriented. Mindfulness can be an action word, but it feels more passive to me. Now, at the end of the year, I’m feeling antsy – like I need to move and ‘do’. To satisfy that need, I’ve chosen ‘create’ as my theme. Here are some things I want to create this year:
- space – both in a physical and metaphysical sense. In the real world, I want to create peaceful, relaxing spaces in my home. This means taking charge of clutter and possessions that no longer serve me or my family, or our purpose. I have really been drawn to the idea of minimalism over the past couple of years, and while I won’t say I am ready to go all in just yet, I feel the need to free up space in my home and my head, and I feel like downsizing all the things might be a step in the right direction. This aspect also includes clearing away obligations and activities that no longer fit my needs or bring me joy or relaxation, or free up time so that I can spend more of it with my kids and Loverly Husband. A relatively inflexible rule I’ve established over the last couple of months has been to say no to things I don’t truly, deeply enjoy or that put money in my family’s budget. I’m spread very thin, and I need to take back some of that time.
- memories – this is something that is so very important to me; that my children have a rich childhood filled with memorable experiences and traditions to carry with them throughout their lives and one day pass on to their own kids. We’ve made an effort to have game nights and do things as a family that do just that: create a memory. We only have a few years of ‘childhood’ left; I want to make the most of them. I’d like 2017 to have an emphasis on ‘creating memories’ – simple things like rock painting, cooking together, game nights, traveling and other fun (inexpensive, low-key) stuff.
- art – creating art is something I always come back to. This takes many forms: art journaling, writing, painting, crafting… I like them all. Some of the time I take from other things needs to be focused on creating more of the thing my soul craves.
- music – I started playing cello this past year, and began piano lessons earlier in December. I used to play flute and clarinet in school, but dropped it after I graduated. I’d forgotten how much I loved it; playing music occupies my entire body – mind, hands, attention, eyes – it’s a full-body experience. For someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, having something that’s so all-consuming to drown in has been an amazing relief. Since my kids are also taking music lessons (both on violin), it’s also something we can do together, which I love.
- change – activism has been a part of my life for years now, in small ways. As my kids get older and demand less of my time, I feel the need to get involved with larger efforts to affect positive change. I’m not sure exactly what route this path will lead me on just yet, but it’s something I am motivated to accomplish.
So… that’s my word for this year. What’s yours?
Happy New Year!
January 1, 2017 | Categories: Advocacy, All About Me, Attachment Parenting, Day in the Life, Holiday Lessons, Kid Craft, Personal Growth, Rambling Thoughts | Tags: commentary, life-lessons, mindful parenting, new years resolutions, nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling, raising responsible adults, record keeping, SuperMom Complex | 1 Comment
The last week has been a hard one for our family. My Loverly Husband’s grandmother passed away the day before Memorial Day, which pretty much brought our world to a stand-still over the last couple of weeks. Like many deaths, this was both expected, and sudden. She had been on hospice care for the last few months, but her decline went from gradual over the last year or so to a very sudden couple of days, and then she was gone.
This is, in many ways, new territory for my kids, and has been difficult to navigate as a parent, and even more difficult to navigate as a wife. She was the matriarch of my husband’s family, and the touchstone for all of his extended family on weekends and at holidays. I have no idea what the holiday season will look like this year without her there for the family to flock around.
The kids are adjusting well, for the most part. We like to stay busy, so this week has seen a return to relative normalcy, though I know they are still grieving. We’re taking it easy, but back to school again. We finished up our ‘school year’ work and started our ‘summer work’ this week. If you’re a new reader here, welcome! We school all year through rather than the traditional 9-months of school with summers off. Our schedule runs from January-November, with 6 weeks of school, followed by a one-week break. Even though we don’t follow a traditional schedule, the boys still fall into their proper grades (more or less; for convenience sake) beginning in the fall and ending in May. That means that LBB will start high school in the fall – eek! Stay tuned for a post soon about planning for high school and the associated stresses and headaches and anxiety that causes me. Our summer program is lighter than ‘school year’ work, partly because there’s more to do during the summer, and partly because I use summers to let them focus on strengthening whatever is weakest. This summer is all about math and spelling wound in and around trips to the beach, visiting friends who are out for the summer, birthday parties, summer reading club at our library and other goings-on.
The last few weeks have been pretty low-key. We’ve been home a lot, just sort of ‘nesting’ as a family, so this will be a shorter update on what we’ve done. This week has been the first time we’ve really gotten back into our regularly scheduled activities; today we met with our homeschool group’s yearbook committee, then the kids went to a friend’s house to swim – nothing fancy, which is a nice way to ease back into our normally packed routine.
I love this picture, because it shows the integration across ages that’s so great in our group, from pre-school through high school, they all hang out together. In this case, they got out the giant chess set and had a very intense round of games.
Hope your summer is off to a smooth start!
June 9, 2016 | Categories: Attachment Parenting, Day in the Life, Rambling Thoughts | Tags: attachment parenting, benefits of homeschooling, family, going with the flow, homeschooling challenges, raising responsible adults, year round homeschool | Leave a comment
Please tell me that I am not the only one who has a child (two of them) who can go from perfectly happy and satisfied in every way, to profoundly miserable in 60 seconds flat! Since the boys have gotten older, we’ve been dealing a lot with the confusion of rapid mood swings while simultaneously trying to ‘use my tools’ to pinpoint the catalyst and resolve the issue – which is nearly impossible when you’re blindsided with it out of the blue.
When they were little, it was easier, I think. I was used to thinking ahead – planning for meals, knowing that teething and asymptomatic/un-diagnosed illnesses might be suspect. As they get older, I think I’ve been taking it for granted that they can communicate well, and figuring that since they have a pretty wide range of vocabulary at their disposal, they will be able to articulate what they need.
Oh, silly Mommy.
I can’t verbalize my feelings half the time, and I have a hard time expressing what I need from someone. I guess I thought that this was a nature vs. nurture thing and was putting a lot of stock in ‘nurture’ and not enough understanding of ‘nature’. There are times when we’re in the middle of one of those ‘moments’ and I can’t help but laugh in sympathy – it’s like talking to myself. In any case, for a while there, we got into really good patterns of communication. Things were going to be smooth sailing from here on out, right?
But then come the hormones… and they throw everything out of whack. In a way, it’s like they’re pre-verbal again; they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re feeling, or the experience to recognize why they’re feeling like they are. And, of course, no one understands. I get frustrated with that claim, but honestly, even though I have been through it and have an inkling of the feelings of disconnection that those pre-teen years can bring, my own angsty teenage years are so long ago now that I don’t really remember how it felt to be right in the middle of it (except for the huge book of horrible, horrible poetry. I do have that embarrassing reminder).
So how to you cope with those moments where you’re running through your mental list of ‘fix-its’ and nothing is working?
Maybe it’s time to update your list. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to go back to basics. There are plenty of articles out there that cover the basics, both the tenets of attachment parenting, and reminders to do a mental run-down of what factors could be influencing a child’s behavior, such as hunger, over-tiredness, personal attention, physical activity, better nutrition – are they just plain bored? – that sort of thing. You’ve also got your unseen factors – pain, stress, on-coming illness – things that maybe even the child is unaware of.
But most AP articles have the same problem – they’re directed towards parents with babies and toddlers. As my kids have gotten older, it’s been increasingly hard to find AP style parenting advice for dealing with older kids. You might think that’s because by the time our kids get older, we’re got this whole parenting thing figured out – let me assure you that is absolutely not true… or maybe I just missed the handouts that day. In either case, here’s what I’ve learned, handing my own tweens & teens: all of those factors, from food to rest and possibility of illness and stress still matter. But it doesn’t end there, because tweens and teens are dealing with the hormones of puberty, and trying to figure out who they are, the world and how they fit into it.
So the question becomes, ‘how does AP translate to tweens and teens’? I found it helpful to re-frame the basic tenets of attachment parenting to fit our changing needs.
- Prepare: When my kids were little, I would see these moms at playdates with the kinds of relationships I wanted with my kids. I talked with them, got book recommendations and asked questions. It’s no different now that my kids are older. I have ‘mommy mentors’ that I can talk with and bounce ideas off of, and get recommendations from that make this whole thing seem less daunting.
- Feed with Love and Respect: this is a basic tenet of AP, but I feel like it’s an important one. In January, we seriously cut out/down on processed foods and cut out almost all sugar. It’s been a really good thing for my family, and I am slowly seeing results, healthwise, in all of us. It’s about helping them see and feel the connection between what they put into their bodies and how they feel. Feeding with love and respect extends also to teaching the children to plan meals, go shopping and cooking. It’s not just about health, but simply sitting at the dinner table every night to re-convene as a family is a ritual that’s important to us.
- Respond with Sensitivity/Communicate Love: this is another one that I feel like translated very well to the older child. Just as it was hard when they were pre-verbal, if they can’t articulate their feelings or needs now, it’s my job to help them find the words or other means of communication to get their point across. We use ‘love notes’ journals – a notebook that’s passed back and forth between me and each kiddo that we’ve been using for a long time. It’s a memento, and also an excellent communication tool when talking is just too much. Communication also means talking with them… family is a two-way street, so getting their input is important. I don’t have it all figured out, and they’re intelligent! They’ve often come up with ideas or alternatives that end up working very well.
- Positive Discipline: One of my favorite recent articles is from MindBodyGreen, called ‘How I Raised Teenagers Who Tell Me Everything Even When it’s Hard‘. One of the points that she makes that really stood out to me is that discipline at this age isn’t about control or even re-direction – it’s about communication. At this point, I feel like we’ve laid a good foundation; now it’s mostly refining and helping to build critical thinking skills. It’s easy to get frustrated or angry when they make (seemingly stupid) mistakes, but I know first-hand the damage that anger can do to trust; I don’t want that with my kids. My goal is to keep the lines of communication open; that can’t happen if their first thought is how they’ll be punished. She sums it up with 5 steps:
Allow your children to have separate thoughts and values.
Get a life of your own.
Deal with your own history and trauma.
Learn to listen actively.
- Ensure Safe Space/Consistent and Loving Care: this kind of goes along with the above point, but also stands on its own. I have always felt that ‘home’ should be the touchstone for exploration. No mater where they go in the world, ‘home’ will always be here, me and their dad o matter where we live, ready to welcome them. That extends to helping them gain their independence, and also as a matter of having their own space and privacy within our home. Our home is/We are a safe space where they’re trusted, they’re believed, they’re heard.
- Use Nurturing Touch: I am not a ‘touchy feely’ person; when my kids were little and especially when they were breastfeeding, being ‘touched out’ was a constant complaint of mine. And yet I have a child whose primary Love Language is touch. I also found it to be an odd thing when my children no longer ‘feel’ like kids to me – they’re bigger than Loverly Husband at this point – the size of grown men! So making sure that there are plenty of hugs and ‘nurturing touch’ is an important element to their development. Finding the right balance here has proven more difficult than I had anticipated, making communication a big thing in this aspect as well – making my needs known, and listening to theirs is key in finding the right way to meet those needs.
- Balance/Focus on Simple Pleasures: I thrive on being ‘busy’. I love the constant buzz of activity. But I also need plenty of down time. So do my kids – maybe even more-so, since they’re still finding their place in the world. Taking time to spend one-on-one time with each of my boys individually has become a high priority in the last few years. Soon enough, they’ll be off to college or perusing their own dreams and plans, and I’ll miss having them underfoot.
So there you have it…. my updated take on AP as your babies get older. It’s not perfect; it will be interesting to see what changes are necessary in the coming years. If there’s one thing parenting isn’t, it’s ‘stagnant’!
What would you add?
February 26, 2016 | Categories: Advocacy, Attachment Parenting, Day in the Life, FAQ, NVC, Parenting, Personal Growth, Rambling Thoughts | Tags: attachment parenting, attachment parenting with older kids, benefits of homeschooling, commentary, communication, family, homeschooling challenges, Parenting, raising responsible adults, SuperMom Complex, unrealistic expectations | Leave a comment
Looking back, it occurs to me that I haven’t been very good at updating this year. Summer has gone by in a whirlwind, and that doesn’t always leave time for blogging. So I thought I’d do a re-cap. I see abandoned blogs all the time, and though I understand how life gets in the way, it’s always sad to see a blog just kind of stop. Rest assured, that’s not what’s happening here – it may take a while, but I usually do come back and update! We’re still here; we’re still homeschooling.
The last real update was in March, with our homeschool group’s science fair. The kids worked hard on their projects, and it was a lot of fun to put together and participate in. That was our group’s biggest science fair to date, which was awesome. Our homeschool group usually meets every week, but this summer was so incredibly hot that a lot of our usual events (like the talent show) that normally take place outside got canceled with plans to reschedule when the weather was cooler. That left us with a lot of free time, which we put to good use!
We actually didn’t take a long summer break this year. We had a lot of wedding stuff mid-summer, so we did take a couple of weeks off around that time, but overall, we’ve been hitting the books pretty regularly all year. I did post a ‘back to school’ previously, so we’re already well into our first semester of the new school year, but it’s so hard to say exactly ‘when’ it started because there isn’t really a break that defines it. It’s taken me a long time to learn to be okay with that ambiguity.
Hope your summer was fantastic!
August 23, 2015 | Categories: Attachment Parenting, Community Events, Daily Review, Day in the Life, Field Trip, Group Lesson, Homeschooling Tips and Tricks, Rambling Thoughts, Socialization | Tags: benefits of homeschooling, family, Field Trip, going with the flow, Parenting, pictures, school on the go, secular homeschooling, year round homeschool | 2 Comments
So here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. With two pre-teen boys in the house, I think it’s a good idea to check in with them periodically to see what they’re thinking and going through, and to reiterate our family’s position and expectations on various topics with them. As they get older the topics of puberty, sex, and related issues come up, and if they don’t then I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring those topics up with them.
Sex is by no means a ‘new’ topic for my children; I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor and worked as a birth doula for a many years, so they’ve had access to age-appropriate information about the birds and bees all along. When they were old enough to start asking questions, we always answered factually, but let them guide the depth of the conversation. We started with simple, factual answers, using proper names for body parts and terms – no ‘cutesy’ stuff that might muddy the waters – because I feel that information is good for them. It also normalizes those conversations that have the potential to become ‘uncomfortable’ if you wait until kids are old enough for body-awareness and self-consciousness issues to come up. Not to say that it erases it completely, but open communication as a staple of family life is important, IMO.
Once we started homeschooling, we added in a more ‘formal’ health class, which included use of the FLASH curriculum. We’ve gone through it once already, and will be covering it again this year, with added material from Planned Parenthood and other websites (most of which are linked in various place throughout this post). I’ve bought the boys several of the ‘growing up’ and ‘about my body’ books for them to read through at their leisure, and added some kid-friendly health websites to their computer desktops so they can research on their own. We also worked through a lapbook on puberty and sex that I made (which will be posted eventually). We’ve even tackled conversations about having sex for the first time, proper use of condoms, and what kinds of things they would want to do afterwards (like condom disposal and washing up). They’ve never been restricted as far as information goes pertaining to what they ask about, and I’d not have it any other way.
The approach we take is called ‘sex-positive’ sex education. It’s talks about sex as a normal, natural, pleasurable experience. It’s open and honest communication, without the tinge of embarrassment, guilt and shame that often accompanies the topic of sex.
It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what’s ‘allowed’ to be taught in Texas schools, which uses shame and religious oppression in a failing attempt to reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs by promoting ‘abstinence only’ education. I won’t go into how ineffective that method is; the fact that Texas is among the highest in the USA for teen (and even pre-teen) pregnancy (5th, actually), and first in the US for repeat teen pregnancy speaks for itself. If their goal is kids having kids, then I say, ‘Well done!’
Additionally, for many in the religious set, children are often coerced into entering verbal contracts with their parents, peer groups and/or youth pastors to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. This trend of tying a child’s self-worth to their sexual status is disturbing at best; abusive and creepy at worst. For something that’s a natural biological process, supposedly instilled in us by the Creator, to be so vehemently linked to sin and corruption and impurity just begs for sexual dysfunction later in life. I really love that quote by Bertrand Russell. It states exactly how I feel about ‘biblical morality’.
Before I go much farther, let me address something (because I KNOW this will come up). I am, in no way, advocating that persons under the age of consent (in Texas, see: Texas Penal Code Section 21.11) engage in any type of sexual activity. What I AM addressing is that I believe that all children, including yours, have the right to know what will happen, or is happening, to their body at the onset of and during puberty, and that they have the right to know that masturbation and sex are normal, biological functions, and that their self-worth is in no way related to their virgin status. I believe that they are entitled to factual information, free from constraints put in place by a puritanical history with no medical or scientific basis. Furthermore, I believe that all children, especially those near or undergoing puberty, should have enough knowledge about sex and sex acts to protect themselves and their partner(s) should they find themselves in a situation where such knowledge is critical.
So what level of education is appropriate for pre-teens?
Well, that depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to: your personal beliefs and stance; your child’s maturity level (both mental/emotional as well as physical – meaning that if your child is physically more mature, then s/he probably needs at least some of the information even if you aren’t sure if s/he’s emotionally or mentally ready for the full picture); your environment and his/her associates – is s/he likely to get this information from peers, and if so, is that where you want your child’s support to come from? (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but you do want to ensure that the information s/he’s getting is factual, and you still want that open line of communication with your kid).
For my children, this includes more detailed information as they get older, including the idea that sex is pleasurable, normal and healthy for adults to engage in. We’ve talked about appropriate speech in company – with friends vs. in mixed company (either girls or adults), being conscious of who else is around them (younger children).
At this age, consent is an important topic. They need to understand what consent is, and what it isn’t. How is consent conveyed? How can signals be misinterpreted? How do you voice your consent? How do you express dissent? Consent is important for them to understand, not only for themselves, to know if they’re being coerced or taken advantage of, but also so they can identify consent in their partners. I believe that consent starts from a very early age. Helping children own their bodies is a key factor in developing the confidence to voice dissent when it matters. The GoodMenProject has a great article that can help parents develop good communication habits that help children understand consent from a young age.
Pre-teens and teens also need to know what qualifies as ‘sexual contact’. This is where a lot of parents get sorta squidgy. Who likes talking about sex acts with their kids? Our parents never had to do that… which is probably an ideal example of why we should talk to our kids about sex acts. If you’re super uncomfortable talking about it, at least direct your kids to something appropriate, like PlannedParenthood’s What is Sex? article. Once they know what sex is, then talks about being ready and protection – for your child, and for his or her partner – can begin. Along with talks about sex, talks about drugs and alcohol, ‘partying’ and what to do if/when they get into a situation where they need help are natural progressions. It’s equally important to talk about being victimized, and to make sure your children know that if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault. EVER. Talk about ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’. Talk about ‘rape culture’, and about how they can be advocates. Talk, talk, TALK!
And if you agree that information is important for kids, it’s absolutely crucial if your child is gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual, asexual or falls in any way outside of the mainstream. LGBTQ kids have all of the same pressures that other kids face, as well as the unique issues that falling outside the mainstream brings. The Trevor Project is a great place to learn about how being LGBTQ affects a child, how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, how you can help them, especially if you think your child might be suicidal. There are websites devoted to helping parents talk to their LGBTQ child, and others that can help parents understand and support their child. Even if your child is straight, help him/her be an ally. Talking with him/her about gender and sexual orientation is important. Because of how society views sex and gender, including promoting homophobia, sexism, and transphobia by not talking about it, it’s important that children are taught that these characteristics are no more exclusionary than skin, hair or eye color – just another variation of ‘normal’ that makes our world such a grand, diverse, beautiful place to live in.
Armed with this information, how do we keep them safe? I think that information is the first string of safety precautions. The more open and communicative your family is, the fewer things get ‘stuffed’. Most kids have smart phones, and there are apps that are specifically designed to help them, like the Circle of 6 app, and the Life 360 app. Others, like the bSafe app, even have a feature that will allow you to program an automatic alarm that will trigger if you have not checked in with your friends or family in time.
You might be asking, ‘ How do we keep them from experimenting? How do you keep them from having sex?’
Honestly? The truth is… you can’t. You can, of course, communicate and express your desires for your children. You can let them know what your feelings are as far as sexual relationships go, and what your expectations for them are. Even the dreaded Planned Parenthood has discussion topics and suggested conversation responses to help parents help their teens delay having sex. But I don’t know of any people who wanted to have sex who didn’t because of an external expectations placed on them. Having an open and honestly communicative relationship helps though.
Given the option, I would prefer my children not have sex until they were in a committed relationship and were old enough to accept and responsibly handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. But another hard truth is that my kids’ sexuality belongs to THEM. Not me. It’s not up to me to dictate to them, once they’ve reached the age of consent, what is right for them. But I can influence their choices, and I would *always* rather them have protected sex (and sexual experimentation) than unprotected sex.
September 15, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy, Attachment Parenting, FAQ, Homeschooling Resources, Parenting, Secular Thursday, Sex, She said WHAT? | Tags: attachment parenting, attachment parenting with older kids, communication, life-lessons, raising responsible adults, secular homeschooling, Secular Thursday, sex ed | 4 Comments
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in the homeschool community about not measuring up. There was a time when homeschooling was fairly synonymous with genius-level intelligence. Even though that stereotype still gets lip-service, as homeschooling becomes more and more popular, it’s just us normal folks, with normal kids schooling in the kitchen these days (or maybe that shows my own perceptions…).
Not only that, but as my kids get older, we’re coming up on the point in time where we’re moving past the basics and into more future career and interest driven learning – meaning that the boys will have more say in what they learn about.*
One of the mantras that I use is ‘Education isn’t about teaching them everything. It’s about exposing them to as much as possible, and teaching them HOW to find the things they need to know, when they need to know it’.
It’s about teaching them to read directions. I didn’t teach my kids how to cook; I taught them how to read, what measurements are and how to properly read/decipher fractions, fire/heat safety and where the dishes go. Nowadays, they can cook anything they have a recipe for (and clean up the kitchen afterwards, too).
That’s kind of how I approach their education. My main goal is to expose them to as much as possible. We do all of the regular subjects – reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.; and I also cover the arts, health, physical education, and other ‘normal’ things that you’d find in any school. But I also glaze over things that may not hold their attention as well as other things. For example: when we covered Vikings, the kids were crazy into it, so we lingered there. Did a lapbook, build a forge in the backyard so the kids could play at being blacksmiths, read a couple of Viking-centered stories, watched How to Train Your Dragon 3 times, and other fun Viking-related stuff. But now, we’re in 1600’s England, with Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and King James and the kids are all ‘ Ho-hum… can get skip this and get to the Black Death already??’ In a word, yes. Glazing… it can be a wonderful thing!
Even though this is one of my personal favorite times in history (reformation of the church, splitting off of the Puritans, the reign of Elizabeth I and the powerhouse that was England… so exciting!), the kids aren’t feeling it right now. But, the beauty of history is that it repeats, so in a few years, we can cover this again, and maybe they’ll be more interested in the same parts I am. And, their lack of interest doesn’t keep me from re-reading the things that I enjoy.
Back to how this applies to homeschooling, though… education is meant to be the foundation upon which your life is built. Helping ensure that my kids have a solid knowledge of the basics means that from there, they have the keys to unlock everything set before them. They can then learn about any subject or field that they choose to; their options are limited only by what they believe they can do.
To sum up, I don’t have to be a perfect, rigorous, every-day-8a-3p, scheduled homeschooling mom in order to be successful, and have successful kids, and neither do you. We just have to teach them the basics, and empower them to do for themselves. Because they can. And they will.
*We are eclectic homeschoolers. I like traditional/classical education for the younger years, moving more towards interest/career path learning as they get older.
January 17, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy, Attachment Parenting, History, Homeschooling Tips and Tricks, Lessons Learned, Never Stop Learning, Parenting, Rambling Thoughts | Tags: balance, benefits of homeschooling, commentary, curriculum, going with the flow, homeschooling, lesson planning, methods, SuperMom Complex, unrealistic expectations, year round homeschool | Leave a comment