Drugs, Spin the Bottle, School Fights – Part 2

If you’ve done your homework from Part 1 of this blog post, you’ve hopefully gotten some good conversation out of your Jr. Higher. I’m sure you discovered a few of their beliefs that may have gone slightly astray from where you’d like them to be. Here are a few tips on some creative ways to redirect and intentionally guide them back to better ideas and values.

The Set Up

Instead of telling your Jr. Higher how wrong their views are, work up creative ways to help them experience and see where their beliefs are not accurate.

For example, my son has begun to put more emphasis and importance on the outside appearance of people than he is on their personality and who they are on the inside. Left unchecked, this belief could cause him to make poor choices in girlfriends, his wife and his friends as he grows older.

St. Patrick’s day is coming so I’m going to bring home two gifts. One gift will be wrapped in cool paper and look very appealing. The other I’ll put in a recycled gift bag or maybe even a lunch sack. Inside the “Cool” looking gift will be some sort of cheesy toy. Inside the “ugly” gift will be a new CD he’s been wanting.

During dinner, I’ll bring out the gifts and let him choose. He will most likely choose the “cool” gift, so I’ll give his brother the other gift. He’ll be in for quite a suprise, when he opens the “cool” gift with the cheesy prize, and his brother opens the new CD from the lousy, cheap bag. Even if he chooses the “ugly” gift, the experience will still make an impact because he’ll witness and experience the same idea, only instead of being sad he chose the “cool” gift, he’ll be elated he chose the “ugly” one. That would have even a greater impact in the long run.

By taking the time and effort to set him up, I’ve helped him experience that sometimes the outside of the package isn’t a good picture of what might be on the inside. 

It’s important not to ruin the experience by explaining the purpose of it to your kids. Just let them sit and soak on it. However, I will follow this experience up later in the week by starting a conversation with the boys when we have some time together. I’ll start it by asking Jarrett, “When you picked the “cool” gift, what were you hoping would be inside?” That’ll spark a conversation between the three of us that will then open the door for them to share their thoughts and ideas.

Side Note: I can include Brendan, age 9, in the set-up because he’ll be happy with either gift.

Make it Cost

Know that your kids are going to make poor choices and be prepared. In fact, be prepared to deal with some of the same issues over and over and over again. But don’t take it personally and don’t think that you are failing as a parent.

When you kids do make poor choices, make it cost them something like time, money or labor. 

Last weekend, Jarrett had a friend over and they were playing hide-and-seek all over the house. (I thought they were too old for that, but I guess not.) Jarrett hid in a pile of laundry that was waiting to be put away on the love seat in my bedroom. In the process of being found, he tossed the pile of clothes all over my bed, all over the floor, all over my room. I didn’t discover the mess until I went to bed that night. I could have yelled and screamed but instead, the next day, I told Jarrett he could put away all my laundry for me. When he asked why, I calmly and simply said, “Because it’s not where I left it. Thank you for the help today.”

I don’t like to use restriction or take things away unless it absolutely necessary. Instead, I prefer to give my Jr. Higher additional responsibilities appropriate for the poor choice he made. It needs to be a cost that will help to emphasize that choosing poorly or taking shortcuts, desn’t pay off.

Jump Into Their World

If you really want to get a more comprehensive view of your Jr. Higher’s world, volunteer to work with them. You can do this through church, at their school, or through sports. I’d recommend not volunteering directly with your child, but with their peers. I volunteer at our church’s Jr. High group on Wednesday nights, but I work with a group of girls. That way Jarrett still has freedom to do his own thing without his mom hovering around.

I have gotten so much insight by being around kids his age. Although I’m saddened by many of the issues that the kids are struggling with, it’s reassuring to know that it’s not just Jarrett who’s got problems. Some of his quirks and bad habits are just a part of the stage he’s in. Here are few things I’ve observed over the last few months about most kids in this age group:

  • Life is all about friendship.
  • It’s okay if I talk bad about you, but not if you talk bad about me.
  • I don’t want to be picked on.
  • The way I look is important.
  • I talk in half sentences cause my friends know what I mean.
  • Every sentence ends with, ” . . . and, yeah.”
  • I know what’s right, but it’s hard to do what’s right.
  • I want to know that I’ll be missed if something happened to me.
  • I don’t understand why people say one thing, and do another.

Lastly

Surround your Jr. Higher with other adults who share the same Godly values as you. Get them involved in a youth group on Sundays or during the week. Encourage their grandparents to invest some one-on-one time with them. At this age they begin seeking validation for their beliefs, and what mom and dad think, just doesn’t count. 

You want you kids to hear good stuff, from lots of different sources and from people they respect. If they don’t get that reinforcement, it will become harder and harder for them to resist those worldly temptations. They won’t have any reason not to believe the lies that marketing, TV shows, movies and even friends tell them about they way they should choose to live their lives.

Drugs, Spin the Bottle & School Fights

. . . Drugs . . . Spin the Bottle
. . . School Fights . . . Scary Movies
. . . Girlfriends . . . Dating

I’ve had some great conversations with my 12-year old son, Jarrett, over the last few weeks and the above are just a few of the topics that have come up. If you talked to Jr. High kids across America, I’m certain the resulting list would be similar. It’s almost like there’s this magic door that opens in the 6th grade exposing kids to so much more of the world than we would like.

So as a parents, how can we raise our children to make choices that are honoring to God and respectful to themselves and others? Below are the first three steps I recommend taking. These steps will help you get the best picture of what your child is being influenced by, if they are struggling with anything, and what they think and believe about their world in general.

Listen & Observe

You can’t provide guidance for your child if you don’t know what’s happening in their world. Be intentional about spending one-on-one time with him/her. This will open the doors for some great communication.

If you struggle with getting your child to talk openly, find a casual environment, conducive to conversation, where you can spend a few hours together. Good places to try is the mall, miniature golf, fishing on the lake.  Bad places would be the movies, the dinner table or places that keep you too busy to chat. The more time you allow, the more interesting and honest the conversations will be. It takes children time to build trust in a adult and their motives. They live in a world that is quick to judge, quick to rebuke and doesn’t always value the ideas of this younger generation. 

Your goal is to provide a safe environment that encourages their thoughts and ideas. Don’t offer advice or correction during these meaningful conversations. Save that for later. Just be attentive, be observant and ask good questions.

Remember, sometimes children simply struggle with articulating their thoughts, so allowing plenty of time gives them an opportunity to put their thoughts into speech. You’ll have to resist the urge to finish their sentences, otherwise you’ll be putting words into their mouths, and they’ll just be saying what you want to hear, and not what they really think.

Keeping the Conversation Going

You can easily get a conversation going by asking questions. Avoid general questions like, “How was your day?” This would be too broad, and won’t help your child to focus on a particular subject. Practice asking questions like, “Hey how is your friend Jake doing, I haven’t seen him in a while?” By honing in on a specific topic or person, it will get the gears in your child’s head rolling. If they don’t answer right away, just wait. They may be thinking.  Once they answer one question, they’re likely to jump to a new topic on their own. If they don’t, ask another question and then wait. Patience is the key.

Once your child is engaged, keep the conversation going by asking them more open ended questions.
“Why do you think your teacher handled it that way?”
“What would you do if you were faced with the same situation?”
“If you could change one school rule, what would it be and why?”
“What do you mean by . . . . ” 

Be sure to . . . repeat what they say so they know you are listening.
Empathize with them, “That must have been a hard decision to make.”
Build their self-esteem, “That was a wise decision.”

But don’t . . . make judgement with your mouth or your face if you disagree with their thoughts. Don’t give advice unless you are asked. Don’t tell them what you think, unless you are asked. Don’t lecture. Don’t dominate the conversation. If you do any of these, your conversation will mostly come to an abrupt halt.

Remember, you are there to listen. Correction, guidance and discipline, if needed, can come later.

Initiate the Hard Conversations

There are some topics that your kids may never bring to you, no matter how much they trust you. They are just too difficult. When it comes to things like drugs, alcohol and sex, these are the topics that you will need to be more forward with.

You can start these conversations the same way:
“I heard the drug dogs were on campus today. What was that like?”
“One of your sisters classmates were drunk and wrecked her car the other day. What age do you think it’s okay to start drinking?”
“It sounds like you’re really learning to appreciate girls. Tell me three ways you can a show a girl you care about her.”

Again, questions like these will begin to pry open the door to conversation and let your kids know that these topics are not off limits to talk about. Remember patience is the key. They may try to avoid the topic or laugh and giggle, but it’s important to keep going. You may want, or need, to feed them bits of information to provide some education on the subject, but allow enough spacing in between to ask them what they think or if they have any questions. It’s okay for there to be silence. It gives them time to think.

You might be fearful of exposing your child to information that they might not know, but it’s only a short matter of time before they do. Wouldn’t you rather be the first person to influence them instead of the last? If they are already aware of a certain issue they won’t be so enamored with it when their friends talk about it for the first time. It’ll be old news and they’ll already have a firm foundational belief from which to make decisions. If they’re not aware of a new topic, their curiosity will most likely get the best of them, and without a firm foundation they’ll rationalize their poor choices with poor excuses.

These techniques will work for any age child, but I think Jr. Higher’s are the hardest. Your job this week is to spend some good time conversing with your child. I’m sure you’ll have a few surprises, good and bad jump out at you. Becoming a good listener takes patience and practice. I killed plenty of conversations with my kids with my poor choice of words or responses, but I’ve gotten much better with some intentional practice. The last few week have proven that my effort has definitely paid off.

Next time I’ll offer some suggestions for upgrading beliefs when they go astray, correcting the mistakes they will make, and furthering your understanding of this particularly puzzling age group.

 

Helpful Resources:

Wayne Rice – Has written several books on understanding Jr. High kids. They are insightful and helpful.

Love And Logic Parenting – Books, CDs, DVDs, Tapes For Parents From America’s Parenting Experts.

Boundaries with Kids – A book about when to say yes and when to say no to your children.