Recently I was asked if my experience with teens has had an impact on myself as a parent and it made me stop to think. I hadn’t really made the connection before but when I thought about it I realised that it absolutely has.
Find their spark
As you know I feel very strongly that teenagers need to find their spark, that one thing that lights them up. If teens have ‘it’ then everything else falls into place. They have a reason to be motivated, they find a sense of purpose and belonging, they care deeply about something, they show up and are committed.
Having a spark can also provide opportunities for kids. Just yesterday I ran a workshop on healthy relationships with social media to a group of teenage girls from various local dance schools. It didn’t take them long to figure out what their spark was-they had been dancing since they were little. When I asked them what this provides for them that social media can’t I was inundated with answers; working with young children, starring in productions, traveling the country, keeping their body and minds healthy. These girls have had a wealth of opportunities because of the joy they have found in dancing.
When I worked in secondary schools I would often come across kids who did not have any hobbies, interests or strong beliefs about anything. These were the kids who watched too much TV and spent hours on games consoles. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe kids should be allowed to watch TV and spend time gaming, it’s important for kids to keep up with their peers and have cultural capital. Most young people want to fit in as it makes them feel safe in this often vulnerable stage of life. But when too much time is spent on screens there is little time for anything else. What’s more, there is little desire to DO anything else.
How has my experience with teens impacted myself as a parent?
I am on a mission to give as many opportunities to my kids to enable them to find their spark. It’s difficult (but not impossible) for teenagers to take up a new hobby. They often start to feel shy and self-conscious when starting something new. However, if you catch them when they are younger they are often bolder and don’t really consider being the new kid as a problem.
So yes, I am a chauffeur for my kids. I take them to various clubs and activities after school most days. We subscribe to First News, a weekly newspaper aimed at young people, to help our eldest get used to reading and learning about current affairs (a year’s subscription was a birthday present from his grandparents). He doesn’t always read it willingly, and would be happy to skip to the puzzles at the end, but we have it built into our routine now that when we are waiting for his brother and sister at their ballet class we read through the articles together. I do strongly believe that kids just want our time and there are so many ways we can give it to them.
I have 3 children so it does require a lot of ferrying about, and it is expensive. I am very aware that we are in a privileged position to be able to do this; I work from home and we have the resources to be able to make this part of our rhythm. But there are loads of things parents can do that don’t cost anything.
Cost effective ways to find their spark
Helping your kids find their spark does not have to be expensive. It could be that a strong belief about something is the thing that fires your child up. It could be that they really love animals and care deeply about animal welfare. How can you keep that spark alive? Talk to them about it, help them do some research. Perhaps they could get involved in an organisation that campaigns for animal rights.
Other things we do include taking them places at the weekend and we always try to keep costs low. We go to our local beach to play football, swim if it’s warm, and we always try and encourage them to do a five minute beach clean and talk about why that is important. They love doing various arts and crafts projects. They love helping me and my husband cook. I struggle to keep my cool with these sorts of activities because of the mess that it inevitably involves, but I try my best to keep calm (this doesn’t always happen) and let them carry on as it is all part of the bigger picture- finding their spark.
This may sound like we are the perfect parents. We are not!
I am aware that this post may sound like I am a super parent. I assure you I am not. It has taken us a long time to get to where we are with this, and it hasn’t been an easy journey. There are many days in school holidays for example when I know my kids have had too much screen time because I have needed that break to just get through the day. My kids watch TV and play on the iPad every day when I am cooking dinner. They often have TV in the mornings when my husband and I are getting everything ready for the day ahead. Our culture likes to make us feel guilty about all the things we are doing and not doing as parents. When something goes wrong with a young adult, the parents are often the ones we blame. The guilt we feel about getting it right can be overwhelming; we can all be super hard on ourselves. All we can do is what is right for us and our families. Time away from screens and being shown other ways to pass our time is always a good idea.
Life is always better offline
Providing opportunities for our kids to see that life does exist outside of social media and screen time will show then that actually life is better offline. So if you have younger children then think about how you can lay those foundations in the early years in a way that fits best for your family. And if you have teenagers and you are still unsure of whether they have a spark then don’t lose heart. Keep insisting on that family time and talk to them about the things that matter to them. The spark is there, it just might need a little oxygen and fuel from you to get it burning brightly.