As adults, we largely get to choose our environments.
We can spend our time with people we like, people who help us thrive.
Our children, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Instead, they’re thrown into a pressure cooker, locked into closeness with a wide range of personalities that can bring out the best or worst of humanity. It’s a rite of passage, and very few of us finish our school years without some painful experiences and scars.
It’s impossible to create a perfect environment – not when we live in a broken world – but we can make school a better environment, especially after a stressful and lonely COVID year. Here are 5 things to tell your child to foster more warmth and connection.
1. Many of your classmates are hurting. Many face problems that you’d never guess based on their appearance. Today’s students face adult-sized heartaches. What amplifies their heartaches (and stress) is not having strong support systems in place, or being in environments where people act self-absorbed, dismissive, or rude.
Chances are, over the summer, someone in your class lost a parent, a sibling, or a grandparent. Someone learned that their parents are getting divorced. Someone got betrayed by a best friend or kicked out of a friend group. Someone had an injury or a surgery that puts them out of their favorite sport. Someone is depressed and wrestling with dark thoughts or anxiety. Someone got a scary diagnosis, and they’re not sure what it means.
You never know what your classmates are facing, and it shouldn’t take knowing their problems to be an uplifting influence in their life. Assume upfront that everyone has struggles, and if you knew their full story, you’d have a heart for those struggles. You’d never want to make their bad situation feel worse.
She called my house in the middle of the night – and kept calling until someone listened.
She knew I’d want to know, and she was spot-on about that.
I was in 10th grade, and earlier that night, I’d gone out with friends. After they dropped me off, there was tragic car accident. One of my best friends, Rod, did not survive, yet I had no idea.
The girl calling was once my best friend. In 8th grade, when I started a new school, she was the first friend I made. For months we spent every weekend together, but things changed that spring when she dated a guy in a different group. We slowly parted ways.
There were no hard feelings, just an unspoken agreement to do our own thing.
We never spoke after that, and that’s why her call surprised me. She tried several times because a relative staying with us kept hanging up, and she persisted until my sister answered. My sister took the message, then woke me up with the devastating news.
I was shocked and confused, and when I learned that the accident happened hours earlier, I felt hurt that my closest friends hadn’t told me.
To this day, that phone call is my #1 memory of my 8th grade best friend. I don’t dwell on how we drifted or barely spoke in high school, because that call trumped everything.
A sorority sister of mine came in town for a funeral.
A high school friend had lost her dad, and she told me this was her 9th funeral to attend in 6 months. All her friends were losing parents, and we talked about how this is, sadly, our current stage in life.
I have another friend whose mom has dementia. While she is thankful her mom is alive, she misses the strong Southern woman who raised her.
“I just wish she’d call me,” my friend says, “and tell me to get off the couch and quit being lazy. She was funny like that, and I miss it.”
When my husband and I got married in our 20s, we entered the wedding season of life. We had a party every weekend as our friends tied the knot.
In our 30s, those same friends got pregnant, and the celebrations continued as we entered the baby season of life.
Now, in our 40s, the overarching theme is funerals. Everyone our age is either losing parents or taking care of ailing parents. This isn’t a joyful, party-filled season. There is no playbook to go by as the roles reverse and the generation ahead of us starts to depend on us – and slowly slip away.
What nobody tells us when our kids are young is how there comes a day when we realize WE are the adults.
Great attention is paid these days to the subject of “mean girls”. For moms raising daughters, it’s a hot topic, something that adults can, understandably, get fired up about.
People talk as if girls have the monopoly on being mean, but I hear stories about boys that are worse than mean girl saga. What we have is not a gender issue, but a societal issue. In short, we live in a mean age. We have a culture shaping our children that is darker, more narcissistic, and less empathetic than the culture that shaped us.
One thing I have learned about parenting is that kids grow up in stages.
Just when you think you have one stage figured out, circumstances change, and suddenly your child is thrown into a NEW stage that puts you back at square one.
In preschool and kindergarten, boys and girls become friends. They invite each other over to play and don’t really see their differences. But around first grade, the two genders part ways. Invisible lines get drawn, and the boys hang out with boys, and the girls hang out with girls. They fall off each other’s radar until typically the spring of fifth grade, when they notice each other again.
In middle school, the boy-girl interactions amp up. They get crushes and have awkward conversations. Since their relationships are short-lived, a parent’s concerns are short-lived too. Give it a week, and a break-up is forgotten.
I have a friend who has a hard time trusting women due to a mindset her mom instilled in her.
As a child, whenever a girl hurt her feelings, her mom would say, “She’s just jealous of you.” It was an easy answer, yet over time it made her skeptical of her own gender.
Today, she struggles to unwire herself of this mindset and let down her guard. While it may have been true that some girls were jealous, hearing this repeatedly has kept her from forming deep relationships.
I thought of this after receiving an email from a mom whose 3rd-grade daughter was hurt by friends. What stood out about this mom was a realization she had after telling her daughter “girls are mean” in a desperate effort to soothe her.
“I didn’t like hearing those words come out of my mouth,” this mom said. “Afterward I thought, ‘That can’t happen again.’ It didn’t make me feel better, and I don’t think that is the way to go through life. How will girls ever see themselves if everyone seems to agree that girls are mean? I don’t accept any other blanket statements, so why should we accept this one which has such long, destructive tentacles?”
For the record, her daughter had every reason to feel hurt. A game called “5 Things I Hate about You” had gone around their class, and a close friend turned it on her. Yet even in the aftermath, this mom searched for a better response, something to help her daughter stay confident and find a position of strength.
It is heart-wrenching to see your child upset.
Typically, it is conflict with a peer that gets them down.
Kids can put on a tough act at school and in their extra-curricular activities, but when they get home (or in your car for pick-up) the walls come tumbling down. They save their heartache and hurt for you, sometimes in the form of a meltdown.
As a parent, it’s hard to choose a response. Do you get involved or not? Is it enough to comfort your child and guide them – or should you take it a step further?
While some events are clear bullying and warrant parental involvement, most incidents fall in a gray area. Many incidents today get called “bullying” but are really kids being mean, rude, or insensitive.
There are no tidy answers, but I do know this: Not every problem your child faces will have immediate closure. Not every offense deserves a call to another parent, a school, or a coach. Your first instinct is not always your best instinct – especially if you want to go nuclear.
Sadly, we live in an age of nuclear reactions. We live in a time where even adults lack boundaries and act on rash emotions that make them lose credibility. Remember how it used to be rude to call someone after 9 p.m.? Well, now there is text and email. At any hour, we can give someone a piece of our mind, shooting off anger, frustration, and outrage. We can write things that we’d never say out loud if we took a minute to breathe, calm down, and think.
Imagine walking into your teenager’s bedroom, stepping over their clothes and looking for clues of who they are and what interests them right now.
On their nightstand you see books. Two books you recognize because you bought them for their English class. The third book is new, one chosen by your child, and with growing curiosity you pick it up. Your heart stops and you feel a sudden pang as the title jumps out at you.
Dealing with a Difficult Mom.
Wow. That hurts. You know you’re not a perfect mom and that your relationship with your teen has room to grow (like any relationship), but seeing this book – and all the highlighted passages – triggers a new voice of self-doubt. In a blink, you question everything you once believed to be true. You ask yourself:
Is this really what my child thinks of me?
Is this a phase – or am I that terrible?
If I am terrible, who else thinks this about me?
Are we this far gone? I thought we were doing okay.
What now? How do I act normal after this painful revelation?
You still love your teenager, of course, but this moment cuts deep. You won’t forget it, and your instinct is to protect your heart, put up a guard, and keep the conversations topical to avoid more rejection.
The people we’re closest to have the most power to hurt us because we deeply care about what they think. As a result, the wounds can run deep, especially among family. Whether we act like it or not, we care what our children, parents, and siblings think of us.
Let me begin by saying, I’m sorry you are hurting. I wish there was a shortcut to the pain you feel right now that makes it hard to concentrate or think about anything but your ex.
There are many causes of a broken heart, but the focus of this message is the heartache after a breakup. Why? Because moms often tell me how unexpectedly hard a breakup was for their daughter (and oftentimes, their son). And, I know very few people who make it through the dating years without a heartache along the way.
I don’t know your story – whether he broke up with you or you broke up with him because you felt like you had to – but I can guess this: You really liked that boy. When things were good, when your relationship hit that magical peak, you felt happier than ever before.
Now, looking back, those good memories may flood your mind. They may play in your head like a movie trailer, one cinematic highlight after another that makes you ache for what you once had and fear that you’ll never experience that level of joy again.
But you will, my friend. You will experience great joy again because you now know what to look for. Your eyes have been opened, and your heart has expanded to a new depth of feelings toward another human being. This can keep you from settling in the future. This makes lukewarm relationships look far less attractive because you know that mountaintop moments are in reach.
I know this relationship hurt you, but it also taught you important life lessons. And if you reflect on these lessons – talking them out with people you trust or journaling about them – you’ll gain self-awareness and wisdom that can help you significantly down the road.
It’s difficult to think straight when your mind is foggy and your emotions are tangled, so here are a few truths to help you navigate this breakup.
Trust me, I get it.
I get what it’s like to have a bad day as a mother – to be frustrated with my child, someone else’s child, someone impacting my child, or an issue affecting our family.
I’ve felt annoyance that needs a way out. I understand the urge to vent, scream, complain, blurt out the first thoughts that come to mind or give someone a piece of my mind. I know the relief of getting a burden off my chest, and how cathartic is can be to talk uncensored, to be raw and real as I work through emotions, especially tricky ones like anger.
Yet here’s what else I know: regret. Regret for speaking too soon. Regret for not calming down first. Regret for acting on a knee-jerk reaction or not waiting to get the full story. Regret for the hurt I caused, the maturity I failed to show, or the conversation I wish I’d never started.
My daughter, at the ripe old age of 11, stared at her reflection in the mirror as I helped her prepare for an event.
But what she saw in the mirror isn’t what I saw in the mirror, much to my dismay.
Out of the blue, she started critiquing herself. Naming and nitpicking every flaw she didn’t like. It broke my heart to hear this, but when I interrupted, telling her how beautiful she is, she got defensive and annoyed. No compliment could change her mind, and the more I talked the more irritated she became.
That’s when I realized my daughter has an internal battle she’ll wrestle with like almost every female I know. She has a critic in her head that will sometimes cloud her thinking and distort her self-image. My instinct was to save her, to keep spurting affirmations and prove her analysis wrong, but since my talking made matters worse, I left it at this:
“You are beautiful, and I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. I wish you could see the truth. My prayer for you is that you’ll learn to see yourself through God’s eyes, because He loves you so much.”
Like most parents, I have wisdom to share with my kids.
Wisdom that can really help them, based on my experiences and mistakes.
With my teenagers, however, I have realized that attention spans are limited. Particularly with “life lessons,” too much at once makes them tune out. Gone are the days where they will listen at length. At this stage I’m lucky to get 30 seconds of a life lesson in.
Apparently this is common. While talking with another mom about the need to abbreviate our speech, she admitted how her oldest daughter told her, “When I need advice, I like going to dad because he’s more concise.”
Ouch. (Did I mention how a sense of humor is a must while raising teens?) Reflecting on her daughter’s words, I realized how I do the same. Many of my friends do, too. We call our dads for counsel because they cut to the chase. They deliver 1 quotable remark – 1 statement to hang our hat on – and then move on in the conversation.
Consequently, I know grown women and men who can quote their fathers’ zingers from 20 or 30 years ago. A wise nugget with perfect timing stays forever etched in the brain.
Years ago, as my firstborn turned 16, I had some breakdowns over the changes that life can bring.
It started on a summer trip to Asheville right before her birthday. I was taking her to Camp Hollymont, so we went early to enjoy the area and get one-on-one time.
We had the best weekend, complete with horseback riding, long walks, exploring The Biltmore, and seeing the Chihuly exhibit. On Saturday night, at a Spanish tapas restaurant downtown, I asked Ella how she felt about turning 16. Immediately her face lit up, and from the across the table she beamed at me, grinning from ear to ear.
“I’m so excited!” she said. “I’m ready!”
Ella had said this before – I’m ready – and logistically it was true. She was driving well and had driven to Asheville. But in that moment, something inside me broke. All the worries, fears, and sadness I’ve been harboring about my daughters growing up suddenly came to surface, and all I could think about was what older moms told me when their kids left for college.
They’re so ready.
When it’s time for them to move out, they’re ready and so are you.
When I was in middle school, my boyfriend broke up with me.
I handled it maturely – by hanging up on him and calling my friend in a rage. You see, I’d wanted to break up with him, but with our school dance a week away, I was waiting so I’d have a date.
My only defense was stupidity. I had no clue how to relate to the opposite sex. Over the next 10 years, I learned by trial and error, and though it all worked out because I married a great guy, I look back and realize how I could have saved myself some grief and embarrassment had I been a little smarter upfront.
Here are 10 dating truths for girls to know in a culture that presents a very distorted view of how romance should be.
Let me start by assuring you that I get it. We all get it. There isn’t a female on this planet who hasn’t felt what you’re feeling toward your mother in some form or fashion.
I don’t know the story behind your argument, but it doesn’t matter. What does matters is that you and a very important woman in your life have locked horns, and the tension may not subside without work from both of you.
I once learned in a college psychology class that being in a certain state of mind jogs memories of other times you were in that same state of mind. So when you’re happy, you recall other times you were happy. And when you’re mad at your mother…well, it probably calls to mind every fight you’ve ever had.
Maybe you feel this way. Maybe your mind has blocked every good memory of your mom – the nice things she’s done, the fun you’ve had, the sacrifices she’s made – and all you feel is anger or distrust. If so, remember the good moments too. Don’t be deceived into thinking your mom is your biggest enemy.
One struggle for parents of teenagers is knowing whether we’re being too strict or too lenient.
After all, we all know adults who don’t talk to their parents (or who went buck wild in college) because their parents were insanely strict. We also know adults whose lives became train wrecks because nobody ever put on the brakes.
Today’s trend of “buddy parenting” is largely a response to the authoritarian parenting that our generation grew up with. While our parents’ generation generally had more control, there wasn’t always a strong emotional connection, and today’s parents desire more connection and closeness.
To keep open communication, many parents lean toward permissiveness. This keeps their teens talking and deters sneaky behavior since too many rules will lead kids to lie. Connection and closeness are good – but not at the expense of necessary rules. As Nashville counselor Sissy Goff says, having our teens respect us is more important than having our teens like us.
“We’ve all heard the old sayings that rules without relationship lead to rebellion,” she says, “but we’d like to add that relationship without rules leads to kids feeling too much power and a lack of safety. The goal is to work toward having rules and relationship in place, and to parent consistently with both.”
Teenagers have plenty of buddies, Goff adds, but only one set of parents. When we “buddy parent,” we lose their respect and set them up to feel insecure.
Being too permissive also hurts our teens as positive influences pull away and the wilder crowd gravitates to them.
A group of teenage girls on a Christian retreat were taken to a mountaintop and told to listen to their fathers.
One at a time, they were blindfolded and told what steps to take. Since cliffs were nearby, they had to walk slowly and deliberately.
Each blindfolded girl was told to listen to her dad. Her dad was instructed to speak softer and softer until his voice became a whisper. Meanwhile, the girls watching were told to gradually get louder and louder to drown out the father’s voice. After several steps, each blindfolded girl would panic as she asked, “Daddy, where do I go? I can’t hear you!” because the noise was too loud.
As her peers screamed louder, her father’s voice was lost.
I love this exercise and its application to listening to God. For teenagers, who constantly get bombarded by outside voices, tuning in to God’s quiet whispers can make a huge difference in where they end up. It can protect them and steer them away from nearby cliffs.
Adolescence is a time of dangerous new territory. To blindly let our daughters loose without any instruction would be irresponsible. Unlike us, they haven’t lived long enough to see tragedies. They don’t know what can happen from a seemingly harmless choice. They don’t believe us when we share stories of potentially fatal outcomes.
We can’t always save them, but we can prepare them for treacherous terrain. Here are critical conversations to get you started.
Friends, raising teens is hard, and sometimes parents feel desperate – certain their child needs help, yet uncertain of where to turn. Some organizations prey on this, and many “rehabilitation centers” for troubled teens present a good facade and then abuse their teens behind closed doors. Even Paris Hilton recently revealed the abuse she suffered at a boarding school for troubled teens. Years ago my friend Sue Scheff walked through a nightmare with her daughter, and in the aftermath she founded helpyourteens.com. Sue is a nationally known parenting advocate who has helped more than 50,000 families, and it’s my honor to share her story and the guidance she can provide.
“I’m not so sure being in the same place is the same as being friends.”
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
An 11th grade girl missed 2 weeks of school due to an emotional breakdown.
From her large friend group, only 1 girl checked on her, which fueled her fear that her friendships weren’t real.
A 10th grade girl got booted from her friend group. They treated her terribly, yet she was scared to leave because the groups at her school were set in stone, and she had no place to go.
A 9th grade girl saw a dominant new leader convince her friend group to exclude her. Her mom tried to stay upbeat, but seeing her daughter so hurt and spending every weekend at home made her want to cry.
An 8th grade girl got dropped from a group text. First her friends stopped replying to her comments. Then they started a new thread without her.
A 7th grade girl who was kind and well-liked suddenly got edged out. Even her mom noticed how the other moms and daughters would get together without them, and they didn’t understand why.
“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”
When my daughter was 2 years old, she went into anaphylactic shock from eating a food that we didn’t know she was allergic to.
It was a terrifying, painful reminder of how life can change in a blink.
By God’s grace the EpiPen worked, but that night changed me. It was my third major parenting scare, one that left me shaken for days and ready to bargain with God.
I didn’t like how different my faith looked before a scare versus after a scare. It felt wrong. Why did it take an emergency to bring me to my knees? Why did I regret the way I forgot God on normal days and clung to Him in a crisis?
Deep down, I knew I depended on Him for every breath in my lungs, yet I felt self-sufficient until a crisis hit. Seeing my child in danger and feeling helpless to save her made it crystal-clear that I have far less control than I believe.
I have a friend (I’ll call her Janie) who is very outgoing and talkative.
When she was in high school, she told her mom everything. She opened up and shared her heart like every mother hopes and dreams her daughter will.
Things changed, however, when Janie was in 11th grade and overhead her mom talking on the phone one day to a friend. Her mom told this friend how she was afraid Janie might follow her boyfriend to college – but she hoped she wouldn’t because it’s not like they were going to get married.
In that moment, Janie felt violated. Hearing her mom discuss the private life details that she’d revealed in confidence totally blindsided her. That day, Janie says, was a game-changer in their relationship. Although she remained close to her mother and still loved her, she never opened up to the same degree again.
This story is a great illustration of why it’s increasingly important to protect our kids’ privacy as they grow up. For one, it’s the right thing to do, and two, if they find out we’ve shared too much about them – especially in the teenage years – they’ll shut down on us. They’ll find someone else to be their safe place and sounding board.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor W. Frankl
Mom sets the tone.
For years I’d heard this saying, yet it didn’t really register until I witnessed it firsthand.
It was 2011, and my daughters were young. We’d gone to dinner to celebrate a new home that the sellers said was ours. My girls had chosen their bedrooms, and our family was giddy with excitement. After years of being crammed into tight quarters, we were desperate for more space.
And that’s when the curveball came. Halfway through dinner, our real estate agent called and said the owners signed with another family. We soon discovered how they used our contract to get a higher offer.
I was heartbroken – and mad. We’d let ourselves get attached to this house because we thought it was a done deal.
During a Spring Break family trip to a Caribbean island, I got a text from my daughter’s friend.
Help! These guys are begging us to party with them tonight, and they won’t leave us alone.
I reached the girls quickly, thanks to it being a small resort. Sure enough, 5 young men were surrounding and flirting with my daughter and her friend, both 16 years old, as they laid out. The girls were trying to be polite, so I told the guys – who looked to be 20 – that they weren’t interested.
They left, and when my husband arrived, the girls explained how they couldn’t get rid of the guys. They kept pushing the girls to leave the resort, even as they repeatedly turned them down.
With anger crossing his face, my husband’s protective side came out. “Girls,” he said, “you’ve got to be blunt. If blunt doesn’t work, get ugly. Don’t beat around the bush, especially with guys like that. Next time tell them to get lost. Or get up and report them to the front desk.”
It was great advice – yet advice I’d never heard. For many females, being blunt doesn’t come naturally, especially when you’re raised to have good manners. But sometimes, manners must fly out the window, and as we prepare our daughters for the real world, it’s imperative to talk through scenarios that may call for a different voice.
I have a friend who studied city planning and the purpose of bridges.
She explained how bridges are needed as a city grows and expands. They connect one part of a community to another and offer a safe passage.
We related this concept to raising teens – and why bridges matter in the parent-teen relationship. As a child grows up, their world expands and separates them from their family and familiar territory. They need bridges that take them home and safely back to the people who remind them of who they are.
As a writer for teen girls and a mom of three teen daughters, I’ve long looked for ways to build bridges between their hearts and mine. I’ve seen how disconnect begins when we try to give guidance without awareness of their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
Teenagers don’t care what we know until they know that we care, and one way we earn a voice in their lives (and build bridges that last) is by listening, empathizing, and putting ourselves in their shoes to understand what it’s like to be them.
So how do we tap into that inner world? How do we unlock the mystery of a teenage daughter? Clearly, every girl is unique, but as I surveyed girls on what lingers below the surface, they agreed on some common things they wish their mothers knew.
I was pregnant with my third child and waiting to see the doctor.
In the waiting room, an older woman asked me if I knew the baby’s gender. As I told her it was a girl – my third daughter – she and two ladies nearby exchanged glances and moaned. They all had adolescent daughters, and with despair in their voices they told me:
“Just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re really in for it!”
I’d heard this cliché before, and I chalked these mothers up as Debbie Downers and forgot about their gloomy forecast until I started to hear this script again…and again…and again. You see, when you have four daughters like I do now, that is the #1 narrative that older moms share.
For years my goal was to prove them wrong. I promised myself, My daughters won’t be like that. We’ll always be close, and I will not look like these stressed out, strung out, exhausted moms in the throes of raising teenagers.
This goal seemed doable until my daughter started middle school and we started to fight – and I became the stressed out, exhausted mom of a teen girl. From the back of my mind, I pulled out the narrative that I’d heard too many times to count.
Those moms were right! Everyone has warned me about teenagers, and now their predictions are coming true! The answer, I assured myself, was to navigate this new teen territory by digging in my heels and firmly taking control. Otherwise, this daughter and her three sisters would walk all over me.
After all, it was my daughter’s attitude, moodiness, and sass that had disrupted our once loving dynamic. If anyone needed to change, it was her, not me.