by Drs. Bruce Narramore and Vern Lewis
I f you have an eleven or twelve-year-old son or daughter, you have probably observed their growing need to think for themselves and to cope with the rapid changes in their bodies. You may have also noticed increasing sensitivity and emotionality. Preadolescents are getting ready to enter the most revolutionary and unsettling years of their lives. And with the changes and stresses of adolescence come increased moodiness, shortened fuses, and heightened emotional sensitivity. If you haven't observed these changes yet, get ready especially if you are about to rear a teenage daughter!
When our children were eleven and eight, our family took a six-month sabbatical leave to another state. My wife and I were writing every day but our evenings and weekends were entirely free. Each night we had some family time together, talked with the children about their day, shared games, or planned some interesting activities. Many evenings we gathered in the living room and read The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, and other children's books. Then we prayed about our day and for friends back home and other things. Although we have always been a close family, that period of concentrated family time was like a magnet pulling us together. It gave us a chance to communicate our love, listen to each other, and have a lot of fun together.
I am convinced that this six-month period of relationship building was one reason our children handled adolescence so well. It enabled Kathy and me to solidify our friendships with Richard and Debbie so that they saw us as encouragers and friends instead of parents who only showed up when they needed discipline or correction. It also let us fill up their emotional gas tanks so that they had inner resources for the trip through adolescence that lay ahead.
If you haven't learned to have fun with your children, start now. When our sabbatical was over, we vowed that we were going to maintain a slower lifestyle and preserve our family times together—but it wasn't easy. From the moment we walked in the door at home, the phone started ringing and responsibilities quickly filled our calendar. Every week we had to struggle to make time for family fun together. And we periodically had to sit down and rearrange our priorities and eliminate a few otherwise very good activities that were becoming barriers to our times together.
Everything you want to do for your
teenagers will depend on how loved
and understood they feel by you.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of building happy relations with your children in the impressionable years just prior to adolescence. Everything you want to do for your teenagers will depend on how loved and understood they feel by you. Preadolescence is your last chance to relate to your children as children and to strengthen childhood feelings of intimacy that will nourish them for life.
If you haven't already done it, take a few minutes to consider how momentous this time can be. God gave you children to love and prepare for adult life in less than 20 years, and the majority of that time is gone. Their diaper days are gone. Their preschool days are gone. Their elementary years are over, and before long your children will be making life-changing decisions and setting out on their own. Have you done all you can to get them ready? If not, it's not too late. You still have a few impressionable years when they are open to your input. But you had better hurry—this is almost your last chance. If you haven't learned to have fun with your children, start now. Or if your children see you as a "heavy" who shows up only to discipline or tell them no, now is the time for that to change.
Provide Stability and Structure
Older preadolescents are just beginning to break out of their relatively quiet and stable childhood years. Their bodies are changing. Their minds are changing. Their schools and friends are changing. And their emotions are changing. Since nearly everything is in a state of flux, they need a stable anchor in the middle of their shifting world. Relatively organized and calm parents help calm and reassure their children. Parents whose own schedules are irregular or whose lives are filled with excessive pressure or confusion compound their teenagers' emotional imbalance and hypersensitivity.
I realize it may be difficult to structure your schedule, and I realize you may not be naturally cool, calm, and collected. But the fact remains: Children in these formative years need relatively calm and organized parents and a family that provides stability and a model of balanced emotional expression and control.
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