I have three daughters between 11 and 15 years of age. And, at times, parenting them can be quite frightening. Since both of my parents and my brother were/is mentally ill, my primary concern is their mental health.
Good Mental Health Is Imperative
There are three major factors contributing to mental illness, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are inherited traits, environmental exposures before birth and chemistry changes in the brain. Not only is Suicide the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18 according to the Jason Foundation, but good mental health is imperative for good decision making and judgment especially when it comes to sex, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure.
My children are aware of our mental health history. They know that mental illness can be caused by hormone changes in their brain. I have also told them that there are no guarantees that we stay mentally sound with our history. We have discussed symptoms of depressions and where to go for help if I can’t be enough.
A High Self-Esteem and Confidence Is Important
Teens with a high self-esteem will less likely succumb to peer pressure than kids with doubts and self-loathe. Parents can infuse confidence in children by asking for their opinions, trusting their judgment, giving them space and by allowing mistakes. I have worked on this since my children were little and gave them gradually more option. For example, I have never forced them to give someone a hug, apologize to another child (when they are simply not sorry), finish a plate, wear a coat or stop seeing someone even if I didn’t like them or their parents. We have taken them house hunting and their opinion counts.
Every worry and every thought from them has been taken seriously since childhood. They don’t get belittled for certain fears, thoughts or opinions. I feel honored if they share those things with me. When my daughter cried the other day I pleaded with her: “Please help me to understand. I want to understand you.” And she gave me a small window view to her heart.
Love is Never Withdrawn
Privileges can be earned, but hugs, attention and love was never performance oriented. They may stay longer with a friend if they help me with little things around the house, but I don’t withdraw hugs, attention or love if they don’t. I believe that this helps with good judgment about sex. It is my hope that when they know that they are loved regardless and don’t have to do anything in order to feel loved, then they think twice about sleeping with a boy they just met.
Sex Is More than Just Sex
From childhood on, a vagina was a vagina and a penis was a penis. We did not try to invent cutesy names for certain body parts. We introduced books about sexuality, genders, childbirth, sexual diseases and self-care books to our children as they got older. I don’t agree with schools that use scare tactics on our teens. Let’s face it most teens will not die from having sex. Most of them will use birth control in order to prevent teen pregnancies. I have explained that sex is fun, special and can cause unwanted/wanted emotions, regrets and/or consequences which may or may not have to be dealt with. I should never be given away lightly.
Since my teens were toddlers I made it absolute clear to them that their bodies were theirs. So, I should be exempt from taking control of their body and decisions now that they are teens. But I try to protect them by advising them of some dating rules, talk to the other parent and ensure that I am or they are at home if they spend time alone with the opposite sex. But in the end it is their decision and if birth control is absolutely needed I am willing to see a doctor with my daughters.
Behavior Is Modeled
Behavior can be learned and it is often modeled. So I try not to succumb to peer pressure myself to get the latest cell phone or try to fit in even if it is inappropriate to do so. They see me taking responsibility for my actions. They know that I stand up for myself and for those who are bullied because they have seen me doing that. They also know whether I can forgive myself, move past my mistakes and agree with the reflection in the mirror.
They know that I am “trying” to be the best parents I can be even so I may be far from it.