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Saturday, July 19, 2014

5 reasons we let our teenagers hang out with the bad kids


Kay asked me a question over on the Q&A that I thought I'd address.


How do you balance your kids' (specifically the teens) social lives and family lives, and make sure their friends are good, solid kids who will be a good influence?


My knee jerk answer to the second part of this question, Kay, is we don't.  
Well kinda.  
Let me explain. 

When our children are little we do more of this.  Making sure we met and know the mom and dad and family before having play dates or sleepovers.  It's easier to do when they are little.  I don't like my kiddos watching R or even PG-13 movies before they are old enough, (mostly because of the violence) and of course we want to make sure that they were in a safe and fun place.  

But starting at age 10-ish we start talking to our children about the big things a lot more frequently.
Sex. 
Drugs.  
Right and wrong.
Shaping and molding character.
You know... the big stuff.   The awkward hard stuff that can be hard to talk about, and hard for kiddos to hear... from their parents that is.  If they're going to be learning about it at school, and they absolutely are, and hear about this stuff from their friends, we certainly want them to hear about it from us (hopefully first) with accurate info, terminology and our foundation behind it.

But here are a couple of thoughts about why we don't necessarily "make sure their friends are good, solid kids who will be a good influence."  

#1     Who am I to judge who it a good influence and who isn't?   When they were littler it was easier.  Is your pool fenced?  Have I heard mom or dad use profanity?  Do they attend church?  Is little Sally polite?  Does Bobby share?  When they were little we were training a lot of "surface" issues.  And these issues, like using manners and eating a balanced diet, are easier to spot.  But as kiddos get older their training goes deeper.  Is it ever okay to lie?  When shouldn't I help a friend?  What type of issues do my parents want to know about?  Is service a part of your lifestyle?  What is excessive?  Where does God fit into my life?  These issues are much harder (maybe impossible?) to truly discern in another person or family. Maybe in part because issues like these are often constantly evolving throughout the course of a lifetime.  Heck there have been people and families that I thought I knew and thought were fabulous influences!  Only to discover big ol' huge stuff, things that rock the foundation of what we believe to be so important, a decade later.  So figuring out the good influences from bad ones, especially as children turn into teens isn't easy at all.  Appearances are incredibly deceiving in this day and age.  The good news is that teenagers are incredibly good at evaluating character.  It's like they have a second sense about it, and most of the time they have far more info to do it with than we do.  So maybe some of this job is better left to them. 

#2     Through exposure to a variety of people and real life situations with "the bad kids" comes amazing opportunities for our children to practice good decision making.  Our children are going to encounter a wide range of bad influences and general crap in the world.  They are going to encounter unscrupulous people, both from children and adults... in grade school, high school, college, the work force and throughout their lives.  We want them to practice while they are still under my roof how to make good choices even when it's not popular.  And we can't expect them to practice if we shelter them in a bubble of happy happy joy joy.    

#3     At one time or another each of my children has been that bad, un-solid kid that was a bad influence.  The child, that other parents had they known, probably would not have wanted their kid to hang out with.  Not always, but yes, all of people, teenagers and children make poor choices eventually.  Life is a series of doing, learning and doing better.  And would I like for my children to never have friends to hang out with or never have great kids to hang out with that would be a good influence on them?  Of course not!  I want them to hang out with good, solid kids who will be a good influence too even when they aren't perfect!  

But my children aren't perfect, so we try our best to reinforce their good choices AND catch them when they fall.  Because they will fall.  WE ALL fall at sometime or another.  (Sweet God knows I've had my fair share of falling, sometimes hard and big falls too.)  So let's pray that when our children do fall it is when we parents are there to help them, teach them better and build a strong foundation.  It's better to do this when they are teens under our roof than when they are in college away from us.  Do we want our children to makes mistakes?  Heck NO!  But we are all sinners, and we all do.  So let's treat their mistakes like the amazing teaching opportunities that they are. 

#4     We have had some amazing, life-altering-in-an-amazing-way situations with our children hanging out with the "bad kids."  These kids have been invited to our homes and welcomed. One thing we learned is that nobody is all bad.  There are often understandable circumstances that have led up to a bad reputation.  We give them a chance.  And often the reputation was just that, a false reputation.  Or maybe someone that just needs an opportunity to change.  And what an amazing opportunity to show another teenager (or adult) what good choices and decision making can lead to!  We want to show our children that we should serve others, and it starts at home.  We want to be that family that isn't afraid to get our hands dirty and with that comes being around and making an investment people that others may not.  

#5     It facilitates communication and provides opportunities to strengthen character.  Now my kiddos might be shocked to read all this stuff.  (Actually the biggest ones may not.  So if you're one of my kiddos reading this, this is NOT permission to experiment with poor decision making!)  Somewhere around the beginning of middle school we start making a big deal to our kiddos about them talking to us about what's going on around them.  Who said what at lunch.  Who's talking about smoking cigarettes.  Or smoking them after school.  Who's kissed already or talking about it.  What are they seeing on their cell phones via YouTube.  Who sharing inappropriate pics at recess.  What's happening that's sneaky and why.  Or worse!  Because as kids get older this stuff only gets worse.  In the end, the stuff that they hear, see and talk about is stuff they don't forget, and the stuff they automatically know that mom and dad would want to know but purposefully hide.  reiterate to my children again and again and again, they will have more privileges if we can openly discuss this stuff.  They will be able to go to more parties, more over-nighters, outings without us, if we are having ongoing discussions about "the hard stuff." I initiate the talks usually after they've been somewhere.  How was your date?  Did you have fun sleeping over at Bobby's house?  What did you talk about at camp?  And I prompt them.  What do I want to know about?  Anything inappropriate happen?  How were you involved?  What did you say?  The inappropriate stuff is going to happen whether or not we parents know about it or not, so if I can get them to discuss it after the fact, then half the battle is won. Of course all my kiddos have felt awkward about doing this initially.  Some of them have come to these talks more easily than others.  But I assure them that if they do talk with us, they will not get in trouble for talking about it, we will not run to their friend's parents and tattle, and I won't even dislike the aforementioned "bad kid" that they talk about, and if they participated, owning up is a great step in building character.  In the end I hope these talks facilitate ongoing communication, opportunities for us to teach and reinforce our values, and keep us informed about what goes on in their world.  And ultimately we hope it helps our children come to us when they mess up and become that kid so we can work out the problems together.  Does it always work this way?  Nope.  But we do believe it trains children in this direction.  

So there are some of the things that come to mind about our tweens and teens, the influences around them and what we try to do about it.  Yes we want them to hang out with solid kiddos that are good influences.  But it's not that easy as you probably know, Kay, and we want them to develop skills for living in the real world.  Of course all of this is MUCH easier on paper than it in in practice.  I really feel kinda awkward writing it down since I'm far from having all the answers to parenting!  Do we know what we're doing all the time?  Certainly not!  The vast majority of the time I still feel like I'm wingin' it in the parenting department.  But like I try to train my children, I try my hardest and when I know better, I do better.  I know I've contradicted myself all over the place in this post.  But much of parenting is like that.  Take what you like.  Discard the rest.  

Certainly discard all the typos! 

17 comments:

  1. Nancy, I really respect you as a mother and I hope you know how good of a parent you are! Our parenting sagas have drawn us to a similar conclusion. Communication is the biggest secret of parenting!
    Our eldest, Betsy (now 24), was definitely our parenting guinea pig. She would hang out with the average girls. Not the ones having sex, doing drugs, and swear every sentence. Not the ones who all love Jesus, do not have drama, and do not wear skinny jeans (aka the good influences). We really failed to build that trust of Betsy telling us everything. Betsy was going over to others' homes more than others coming to our own. I wasn't cool mom. Because we hadn't given her that solid foundation of trusting us, yet we were teaching her about Christ, she ultimately suffered some consequences of feeling lonely and depressed. We serve an awesome God of second chances, and everything turned out fine. She has a wonderful husband and is expecting a little one in January.

    Now our second child Makenzie is now 21. She hung out with the Jesus-loving girls that were socially on the bottom and loved it! On her own, she made the decision to be completely pure before marriage. She was married last month and she and her husband saved their first kiss for the alter. Our trust relationship wasn't very good either, but she didn't have much bad to tell me. I really wish I had been able to have a closer knit relation ship with that wonderful girl.

    Richard is starting his freshman year of college in the fall. I am very close to him and he tells me everything. He gravitated toward the kids that were not great influences. His best friend had sex as at sixteen and had an STD scare (which ended up being a false alarm, praise Jesus). He confided in Richard, who told us. We were able to help him and show him Christ's love. He had a safe haven at our home and we allowed him to spend many nights here when things were rough with his parents. He ultimately came to Christ 11 months later. Not because Richard was telling him about Christ, but because Richard was showing him the love of Christ.

    I could go on telling you about the remaining five of our children, but I will just tell you what we learned. It's great if your kids hang out with the good, wholesome crowd. BUT as long as your children tell you everything and trust you with all information, everything will be all right.

    I like your parenting style just as much as Michelle Duggar's.

    PS: Is Bobby Patch and Poop's sleepover friend? Not Liv and Sunny's?

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    1. Karla, I think it's a rare kid that will tell us everything. But that doesn't stop me from encouraging them to do so! And i LOVE LOVE LOVE your story about Richard's friend and having him in your home. That's exactly what I hope our home will be. There are a LOT of teens that have rough patches with their parents, even in their home is a great one, and lots of great kids that make bad decisions. It's it great that one happened to find himself in your family. That is a blessing for ALL of us as a community of humans. Thank you.

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    2. ... and Bobby and Sally are just random universal names for all the friends of all my children, those we've know and those we are yet to meet. Nobody in particular.

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  2. Nancy, that post resonates so much with me at the moment. Hâuie turned 13 almost two weeks ago but has seemed like a teen for a year already. Unusually for a Vietnamese girl, she looks older than she is and is tall and well developed. There is no doubt her behaviour has changed. There is also no doubt that I found it infinitely easier being the mum of a primary-school child...I agree absolutely with everything you say. Communication is so important, but not always easy when a) your child is quite private and self-contained, and b) you are of a more impetuous and explosive temperament. I have said things I regret on a few occasions. I think one thing that helps is to admit I was wrong, as she was when rude or inconsiderate (or a few other less pleasing teenage traits...). We often have our most meaningful conversations when she is in bed, in the dark. But how I miss my lovely, easy-going, extremely affectionate little girl!
    Carole

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    1. Oh believe me sista, I've said and done PLENTY that I regret in the parenting department. It goes under know better do better. And sometimes doing my best is WAY short of what it should be. But it is what it is, and every wrong it a lesson in getting better and trying harder. For us and our children! I expect progress (although sometimes it is in very small increments over LONG periods of time) for the worst of habits and those hardest to change, like a short temper, from both myself and my children. Anything less is NOT trying ones' hardest.

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  3. Oh goodness, I just realized that my computer changed "Boo" to "Poop". Don't you love technology, Nancy?

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    1. I assumed so. I have a love hate relationship with random spell correction!

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  4. With this in mind, how do you address the topic of modesty?

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    1. Jannette, modestly is an issue we dealt with more than our big girls than our current teen and tween boys. I'm sure it will come up again as our little girls get older too. We ask that our kids wear clothing that it appropriately fitting (not too small or too big) and modest according to our interpretation of what "modest" is. We live in a warm weather climate that IMHO is pretty immodest. Yes, some have rolled up skirts and put on makeup when the care drove away. One of my sons has a HARD time remembering to keep a shirt on while at home and need reminders a couple times a week. As parents we keep in mind that different and "weird" style and clothing choices is okay. Weird isn't bad. And one of us parents here has a much harder time with that then the other. Now some of our kiddos pushed the modestly issue kicking and screaming and needed constant reminders. Others came to it more quickly, and some had no issues with it at all.

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  5. I think I need to print this, have it engraved in a heavy piece of stainless, and hang it on my refrigerator (this being one of two places in the house that I visit frequently!).

    Thank you very much.

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  6. One thing I find difficult is the clothes...our main reason for fighting and sulking (ummm...that's me!). Hâuie was totally uninterested in clothes as a little girl, which allowed me full dictatorship (well, within civilised reason). She was dressed beautifully, not all frilly but lovely French, simple, flattering outfits. Obviously I no longer decide what she wears — but how do you tell your girl that skinny jeans, on a thin but curvy young teen, can look both unflattering and too revealing? Or that the slightly padded bras that are what seems to be all they sell for teens might attract the wrong sort of attention? Or that when experimenting with nail polish there is a fine line between fun and vulgar? How do you tell them anything without them getting defensive and therefore aggressive? How do you balance praising and building self-esteem with wanting them to be their best? And this is a girl who is basically very unrebellious, harmonious and extremely sweet and loving — I'm so glad I couldn't have children and therefore never passed my horrendous genes on to my child!! Keep posting this stuff, it's such a relief to see in writing that we all struggle with the same issues, which are part of normal life!
    Carole

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    1. Carole, I know things change drastically from region to region, but in OUR neck of the woods skinny jeans are the norm. For both women, teens, boys and girls, and children. Now, like all clothing I insist they fit and not be TOO tight! Personally I'm really happy that as style has changed and the rise of jeans has gotten higher even though they've gotten tighter. So I'm okay with skinny jeans as long as they fit. Re padded bras, golly that one's tougher. It goes to the core of a girl and how she feels on the inside. I can't stand them on younger girls and tried to bra shop with my girls all the time. High end bra shops usually don't those styles that I think we're talking about. Soma is my favorite. But they got older, got jobs and their own money and went shopping on their own. I will tell you that nevertheless I found many a padded bras, the ones we're referring to, in the laundry. Same with underwear. These items often disappear as my big girls know. Re polish I could care less about the colors. For me this fits into the category of weird and wierd is ok in our house. If it's black fingernail it is what it is. Black polish doesn't make you a devil worshiper. Red used to denote a prostitute but we're long past those days. Now polish color is an accessory, and I let them express themselves in that way. I do prefer the little ones wear lighter color polish (Usually it's my 16 year old son that's painting their fingers and toes these days and he just grabs whatever color is in front) but it's not an absolute.

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    2. I have nothing against skinny jeans (and jeggings) as long as they aren't tight enough to show anything. My rule is, if you need a bra, you cannot wear a bikini. When shopping with friends, my daughters are only allowed to purchase shoes, accessories, and maxi skirts. Shirts are okay if they text me a picture first. When my girls were younger, I would bra shop with them. As they get older and have cars and jobs at Dairy Queen and babysitting, I can't do that anymore. My rule is: no laundry for the teenage girls; I do all laundry. My small 15 year old who wears about a 26B got a D cup push up bra with her friends. That mysteriously disappeared :)

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  7. We live in one of the northernmost towns of Minnesota, and it is a very cool climate. Our kids are usually covered in a sweatshirt and a North Face and a heavy coat! we still have our issues. One of the twins is very slender and tiny and she can modestly get away with leggings as pants. The other twin is stocky and I prefer her to wear looser boot cut jeans. I don't like having double standards for my twins, especially because they are [self concoius] teenagers. I know allowing Tori to wear leggings is not helping Paige feel confident about herself. This leads us onto another tangent of healthy eating habits and lifestyle. Why don't kids come with owner's manuals?

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    1. Rachael, totally on a different subject, but my oldest son, Patch, is in Ely right now. Is that anywhere close to you?
      ~nancy

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  8. Nancy, isn't it a small world? Our current home is just a few miles outside of Ely. It is a wonderful town and I have called it home my entire life. What is he doing up here?

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  9. I just found your blog post and I cannot agree more.
    So many friends at our church have tried to buy us into the ATI (ultra conservative) lifestyle. My kids also have ATI friends. It is one of those things - like courtship instead of dating - someone's interpretation that they claim to be the Christian, correct way of doing things ("convictions" - no tampons until marriage, only skirts, no heels, no birth control). There is such danger in that, and I have seen the results of those arrows. Churches separating over small issues. I'm not throwing ATI under the bus completely, but there are many unnecessary rules.
    I have no problems with my kids hanging out with the bad kids! The rewards of that are beautiful. ATI kids really can't have an impact in their bubbles. I also have no problem with my kids hanging out with ATI kids! Many of my dear friends and spiritual mentors are ATI moms.

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