tweens

Teaching Tweens/Teens about Health and Wellness

During a recent family vacation my 14 year old and I had this incredible, deep and meaningful chat as we looked out towards the crashing waves. We talked about so many things, all the things! We bounced around from one deep topic to the next: changing hormones, anxiety, chemicals that disrupting hormones, girls, the microbiome, erections (we were on a beach), fake people, media and so much more. Towards the end of our conversation he said to me, “Mom why don’t I learn this stuff in school”? He got that what we were talking about should be known by everyone; these were universal teaching topics. He wondered aloud why he learns things that seemingly have not much use in life but here were these topics that he NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT, that could make a difference in his life and that most of his friends had no idea about. I didn’t have much of an answer for him. Most of these topics were basic health and wellness, things that we all should know about and yet many of us don’t.

So how as parents can we show up to the educational needs of the youth when so many of us don’t even know what a microbiome or endocrine disruptor is? My suggestion is simple, critical thinking, curiosity, learning and engaging in conversations with them in the moments where their are openings (which means you have to constantly and intentionally create these moments or notice when they occur).

These teachable moments are huge for many reasons but the most important is that it inspires CONNECTION to their bodies and to each other. Teaching them about health and wellness from a young age will POSITIVELY impact the rest of their lives!

A “how to” that you can actually use!

How to help kids learn and practice health and wellness for their physical and emotional bodies:

  1. Be a role model! Of course kids always learn the best by watching us! A few years ago I decided that I was going to get strong again in my body. My kids observed me putting in the time and effort to get there. They saw me sweat, cry and push forward and then asked questions like, “WHY! Why are you intentionally struggling?” They saw me work hard and they also saw how much stronger and happier I felt. They also made a ton of fun of me and my grunting noises. It brought them out of their rooms and in turn sparked conversation about how easy it is to let the priority of ourselves go and guess what they even began to occasionally join in.

  2. Foster Curiosity: We have all heard the “nagging” comment. “Mom just let me be! Why does everything have to be a lesson.” Teens hate being lectured but they do still have curiosity in them in fact they have a lot! Remember when you wanted your toddler to do something that they were adamant that they weren’t going to listen? You had to outsmart them. For teens curiosity is the way! Instead of nagging them about eating their veggies, have a dinner conversation about the microbiome and how you are feeding the bugs inside. How these bugs actually impact our mental health and our physical wellness. Ask them if certain foods make them feel noticeably happy? Approach it with curiosity rather than a lecture. Watch a video explaining why sugar elicits a happy response. Once they have knowledge they tend to make different choices (not always) rather than do this because I said so.

  3. Youtube Videos: What if you don’t know how to talk about something because you don’t know anything about the subject? Youtube videos are amazing ways of sharing information with kids on health and wellness and learning more yourself. Of course you need to make sure what you are watching is actually factual and there are a ton of amazing and INTERESTING people out there teaching for free. Do you want your kid to see the effects of wifi on the human body when talking to them about lowering their media consumption then check this out. Want more information about the microbiome and how we are more bugs than humans, check this out or this! Be curious in your learning with them and see where it leads you.

  4. Create the Spaces and then jump in: Tw/teens spend more and more time in their rooms, with their friends and away from parents in general. They are beginning to have more of their own lives; THIS IS NORMAL! It is actually a good thing. They still need you! The process of individuation, that begins at this time period, helps them practice being “adult like” in a safe space. They are still dealing with big emotions, stress and decisions and need you around and available. Creating those spaces for connection and then jumping in with crucial conversations is key during this time. I encourage you to do a weekly scheduled “hang out” with your tw/eens. It doesn’t have to be elaborate! A walk, a cup of tea/coffee, a board game etc. Something where things can be brought up if needed and also fun can be had and at the very least connection is always there and assured for them and you. You often are the ones bringing up these conversations. It takes courage and you may mess up and that’s okay!

  5. Speak to their hearts rather than their ears! Having conversations around growing up, responsibilities, peers, stress is important. Having them over and over again is too! Speak to their hearts so that they open up and hear you. Try telling them that you notice they are stressed and connecting with them on a shared experience. Ask if they want help figuring out ways to release the stress. Have them remember a time when they didn’t feel stress and now what does it feel like in their body? Have them brainstorm ways to create that feeling again, what does it look like, what do they do already that has them get to that.

  6. Tap into the seasons: The seasons are specific times of year when things change. There is a date and time and for my family we celebrate it just like birthdays. We eat a yummy dinner with a yummy desert and talk about what we want to focus on this season; health and wellness is always a focus and how they get there is their path. We inspire one another and have a fun celebration. It also helps them have a reflection and visioning tool that they can use going forward in their life.

    So what happens when you tw/teen doesn’t want to talk or be curious. KEEP TRYING! Don’t give up on them. Keep your heart and door opened and insist on weekly connection. They will eventually have moments of cracking. The early that you can start these routines and conversations they easier it will be once they get in the thick of it!

Let's talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll: Tips on getting uncomfortable and talking to kids about all the big stuff.

Parents we have to talk about ALL THE BIG STUFF! It’s time to get comfortably uncomfortable.

So many parents are uncomfortable when I bring up BIG topics: sex, porn, body image, masturbation, social media. I get it! I mean these are BIG topics and so much easier to just not talk about.

You see for many of us, along with not being taught about something as basic and integral as the bodies menstrual cycle, we were also not given information or conversations about sex, drugs or rock and roll. Right? If it was often it was a sit down, formal lecture on all the things we SHOULDN’T do. No conversation, no information “Just say no”. That didn’t work then and it’s not gonna work now.

The thing is most of us adults would of loved to have had that This is Us (if you haven’t watched the show I highly recommend it) conversation that made everything seem comfortably uncomfortable.

Our kids want this information! They have SO MANY QUESTIONS and we don’t really want them going to youtube or social media for the answers do we?

Kids “know” about things earlier and earlier! They are exposed to so much more information than we ever were at there ages. They have questions and we have the answers for them. We just have to be willing to get uncomfortable and go there!

Here’s the thing:

  1. More than likely it’s gonna be uncomfortable! Parenting in general can often be uncomfortable. I don’t know about you but I never got use to wiping the snotty noses or cleaning up the puke filled beds (why oh why could they never make it into the bowl!). Now that they are older they can thankfully do those things themselves but they have a new need; conversation!

  2. You many stumble across some words. You may even get emotional and it’s okay!

  3. You may not “do it right”. I am not sure that there is a “perfect” way to have these conversations; but if you put thought into them, have chats with friends and actually have the conversations you are stepping in the right direction!

  4. You may not know everything and that’s okay!

  5. More than likely they are ready for the information well before you are ready to give it to them.

My Advice:

  1. You gotta start somewhere and then keep going! Opening the dialogue on BIG conversations like: sex or consent is the hardest part. Once you start the conversation it gets easier to keep going. It isn’t a once and out affair but a continual check in as they grow older, have more questions and real life experiences.

  2. None of that “sit down we need to talk” nonsense. I don’t know about you but if I personally hear the words, “Sit down we need to talk” my adrenaline is released and my defenses are up. This isn’t a great way to start a dialogue or open conversation around big topics. Instead start the conversations on a walk, as you are driving in the car, playing a board game or some other flow moment when you aren’t uncomfortably staring across from one another. This will immensely take the pressure off the conversation! Set up the listening as if this conversation is normal and natural to have (p.s it is).

  3. Keep connected! It is easy as kids grow up to let the natural process of individuation occur. Our lives get busier, as does theirs and in general some tweens/teens get attitudes and they aren’t always as fun to be around. Here’s the thing though. They need us (even and especially when they say they don’t)! Establish early some sort of weekly ritual to stay connected. It doesn’t have to be time or money consuming; something as simple as a walk for 15 minutes every Wednesday or a cup of tea before bed once a week. Something that is planned and non-negotiable. Something that occurs every week and they can count on. Of course some weeks will be filled with silly talk and some weeks may present the opportunity for something bigger to come up.

  4. Keep it age appropriate and if you don’t know what that is then check out one of the resources listed in the end of this article or heck reach out to me!

  5. Try and make it a conversation! Basically kids this age don’t want to be lectured at. They want to be a part of the conversation. So saying things like “this has been on my mind, what do you already know about it, what questions do you have”, are all great starting points (even if they say nothing, it shows that you were honoring and respecting them).

  6. Make it as short as you can. You don’t need to go into every intricate detail and this probably wont be the last time you talk about this topic. It will come in layers. Try and keep it short and sweet so that they stay with you.

Over to you! I would love to hear how you are starting the uncomfortably comfortable conversations in your family!


Additional Resources:

Common sense media: Along with being a great app/website for guidance around the age appropriateness of media there is also a wide bredth of great advice on age appropriateness for BIG topics like: sex, body image etc.

Ah Ha Parenting: Multitude of articles on age appropriate behavior and advice for parents of tweens/teens.

Sex Ed Rescue: Age by age appropriate guide on when developmentally appropriate conversations should begin.

Circling Up: How to Create a Mother/Daughter Circle

It’s simply a fact: studies and common sense show us that continuing to connect with kids in all stages of their lives leads to: healthy relationships, better boundaries, greater self-confidence and a more connected family.

However, as a society this transition/teen phase of life is when we see so much disconnection.

Throughout the early years of pregnancy and toddler hood many of us have access to a new community: pregnancy classes, mom groups of all different shapes and sizes, music classes, mops etc. We share our exhaustion, our embarrassing stories about how Tommy bit Jimmy, or what to do about teething, sleeping, temper tantrums and discipline. However, as the kids get older, enter school and all of the other activities and adult commitments, we begin to split. Many of us become ships passing at pick up and drop off with a nice hello and I gotta go.

Here we are entering into a BIG transition phase of life the tween/teen and we are without community.

There is no one meeting to talk about the teen temper tantrums or “bad” choices. Many of us even hide those things out of a fear that our tween’s choices are a reflection of bad parenting. We are lost at sea, as we deal with bigger issues that many of us didn’t receive guidance on even when we were teen ourselves. How to talk about: sex, puberty, what boundaries to lift and what to stick with, how to talk about social media, what about pornography? All of this on top of jobs, driving around to this game and that activity, your own social life and relationship to a loved one, not to mention any downtime and self care.

So what do we do?

We circle up! We gather a circle of people who are intentionally coming together to surround the younger ones as they grow. A circle for support, questions, connection and to show you your way back when it seems so very hard.

Studies have shown is that it is thru connection and parental involvement, parent’s “leaning in” that teens are able to develop healthy boundaries, less eating disorders, good communication and less risky behaviors. Due to the natural focus shift from family to peers that happens during individuation, adults can circle up around them and maintain the connection while providing influence through others. This offers a safe and fun place to be while talking about important topics that they are dealing with.

I do want to say YES it takes commitment and YES it is another “to do” and one that is easy to want to put to the bottom of the list, just as we do with self-care. However, caring for these relationships in this intentional way in the end helps EVERY AREA of our and theirs.

In the end the time that we put in and intention that we put in makes everything EASIER!

The how to:

  1. Put the call out: It’s pretty obvious that you need to start by finding the community that you wish to surround yourself with. Will it be your daughter’s best friends from school? A random group that you find by putting it out on meetup.com or some other connecting service? Or even a combination of the two. What age group?

    Suggestion: You can’t start a group to young!!! In fact it is easier to start a group BEFORE middle school, as the girls are less resistant and haven’t entered into the bigger transition phases. Of course you can and should start a group for older girls if that is the phase you are at! The big suggestion is to keep the age groups tight, meaning if you are doing a younger group than do a younger group only. 8-13 is to wide of an age gap, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 are good ranges.

  2. Meet as moms FIRST and for a few months: In order to make this a circle that will be long lasting, it is good to come together as moms first and for a few months. You will need to set “ground rules” including: the tone, the where, the who, the flow for the group. You will want to talk about how you are going to handle group group dynamics and what each individual mom’s strengths are. You will want to decide who will lead or if you will spilt it up. Who is the main point person to gather everyone up? Setting up a group with a solid foundation will help with the longevity.

    Suggestion: Map out an entire year “plan” dates/times/locations, as well as topics that maybe covered inter mixed with fun meetings filled with art work or other fun activities for everyone. It is nice to have a theme for the year based on the girls development and build upon that theme in each gathering.

  3. Bring in the girls: Once you feel that you have met enough to set up the foundation of your group as moms, it’s time to invite the girls. You will want to create some sort of ceremony or intention setting activity with the girls as they enter this new space. They need to “get” what this is all about. Share with them that the time together will be fun and that there maybe time for seriousness as well; that it is a safe place to be together. For the first few meetings you will want to keep it light and fun. Of course for girls that don’t know each other you will want to do fun, bonding activities.

  4. Moving Forward: As you continue along the journey together, I suggest regular mom’s only meetings. To support each other as you are going through this phase in your child’s life. There maybe times where a mom/daughter relationship is struggling and gathering together without the girls to feel heard and supported will help. It requires a lot of vulnerability and showing up and through this is how we are able to keep on being opening and leaning into the relationships that matter to us.

I am always available to help out with questions or ideas for mother/daughter groups. If you would like to connect further simply reach out!