Parenting teenage girls #1

You know, the longer I spend as a teacher, the more I see how important my job as a parent is.  In my secondary English classroom I see the full spectrum of teenage 'types'.
The quiet girls who want to hide in the shadows.
The quiet girls, who have inner steel running through their core, and won't let anything or anyone sway them.
The quiet girls who want to be liked.
The nosy ones, who open their mouths, before engaging their brains.
The ones who are clever and want everyone to know.
The teenage boys, whose bodies look adult, but brains still thinking hiding a pencil case behind the lockers is well funny.
The ones who've discovered sex, or smoking, or booze, or drugs - or all of them.
Then there's the ones for who school is a sanctuary from a life of horror, or sadness, or loneliness at home.
Or the ones for whom school is their warzone and every corridor, lesson switchover and break is dangerous and terrifying.

And this list is a speck in the ocean. But add to that the pressure of an overloaded curriculum, high stakes examinations and assessment regimes, the expectations about looks and brains, the pressure of the here-and-now and the pressure of "The Future".  It is no wonder that more and more mental health issues are being reported in our teens.

I haven't mentioned the Internet yet - the evil of our day and age - I can't avoid it.  When I was a 13 year old, no one had mobile phones, the only external sources of interest were the fixed telephone line, 4 channels on the television, and newspapers. The only dramas were the ones created in my small back garden.

Today, teenagers are growing up in a world where everything is available instantly, where sexting is normal (and expected, seen as funny), where pornography is as easy to access as a takeaway menu, where sex and sexual activity before the age of consent is cool. 

Like I said at the beginning, I have never been more aware of my role as parent than I am today as I bring up 3 teenage girls. I can't hide them from the world we live in. I can't deny them the opportunities others have to socialise and be a part of it all. But they need guidance. A lot of guidance.

I want my girls to grow up in this world (a world that kind of terrifies me) to be confident, to be in control of their minds and their bodies, to make choices that are wise, to know right from wrong, kindness from selfishness. I want my girls to roar in a world that could so easily drown them out.

The how of this isn't easy. There's no magic bullet. What works today, probably failed when I tried it last week and might not work tomorrow.

But I am determined and here's 4 ways we are making a difference with our kids. 
I am a busy mum. I'm out at school for 11 hours a day, there's usually 2 hours of work to do in evening. Food to cook, rooms to clean, shopping to buy. Something has to give in this lifestyle. It will not be my girls. They get my time first - always. First chats in the morning. First chats and a cuppa when I get home from work.  When I am in the middle of something and they need me - the something gets put to one side. Truthfully. There are many times, too many, when I can't do this but I try. I stop and sense check the urgency of their need. My girls have learnt now to test their own urgency. They are very sensitive to 'my need' for a Saturday morning hour of reading. As they grow up, there is more give and take but 'our time' is the centre of our family and it matters more than anything.
Let me get real for a minute - most days of the week, this time amounts to a total of maybe an hour or two. A few minutes in the morning, half an hour while we watching the Simpsons. Homework checking and homework help. Team speed tidying. Washing up.
Talk, talk, talk about everything. My kids know there is no subject that is taboo or off-the-table in our house. They aren't too young to ask us anything. I talk openly and explicitly with my eldest about boys, sex, social media, body image: the whole gambit. 

I have so much to say about how I chat with my girls - I'll probably have to put this in a separate blog post.  But here are our intentional basics:
# Positive chat first - we try very hard never to nag
# Fun chat - keep 80% of it light and stress-free
# What counts - listening to what matters to our girls, talking about stuff they love.
# Chat space - we put the devices down, talk the TV off, lounge on the sofas or on beds and really chat.
It won't surprise you that this area is what causes the arguments in our house. But it is also the one I am most passionate about. The control we have over our girls' lives only works because of everything else we do, because of our good relationships.  But we do have control. We aren't an anything-goes family.  I will not let my girls be at risk because I don't know what they are into.

So we control completely our girls' access to Wi-Fi, social media and any internet sites. There are lots of ways you can monitor and control digital devices. OurPact is one that friends are using - it comes highly recommended, although we don't currently use it.

Our eldest has her own phone, but we see everything she is accessing. My husband is a technical whizz and is in total control of her apps, history and access controls.

We are friends with our girls on all their social media accounts. They post the typical teenage stuff - yet - because we have talked so often, none of the pouty / booby photos that teen girls seem to love or indeed anything that might jeopardise a future career.

We turn the Wi-Fi off at 9.30pm every night and mobile phones are 'handed in'. I'm sure you can imagine this is still a battleground - and of course - there are moments of flexibility. My kids love their sleep, so I don't have to have the fight about endless face-time chats at 3.00am. But as I have their phones it would never be an issue.

Our kids also have access to all our social media accounts. We model the behaviour we want them to learn. When I see someone post something dodgy - then if appropriate we discuss why that particular post was a bad idea. Often, the girls will show me stuff that they've seen that makes them uncomfortable. We talk about filtering, blocking and intentional ignoring. For us, social media and internet access is an open book. There is nothing about it that should be secret.

While I'm on the topic of control - our girls do not have TVs, computers or games consoles in their bedrooms. Now our house is small. The girls don't really play games online much (Minecraft is as far as we've got). But all of this stuff happens in our family space downstairs. And despite the noise and chaos, this is also where I do my work in the evening. It's not efficient, or easy, but it is open.
It made sense for me to talk about freedom right after talking about control. The teenage years are years of opposition. So it works. We try to say "yes" more than we say "no".  In the same way that we aim for positivity, more than negativity (or nagging).  An 80:20 split is where we want to be.  My girls need to know I trust them. This is essential.  They are kids, they will make stupid decisions. They will outright ignore our rules and our advice (touchwood - only occasionally).

But they do need freedom to succeed as well as sometimes fail.  So we try to allow them that as much as we can. There are a bunch of longstanding sensible rules - which means we don't have to say 'no' often.

Here are the "no-you-can't":
# Go out somewhere without clearing it with us first.
# Come home on your own when it's dark.
# Go out dressed in a way that attracts the wrong attention (we've had LOTS of conversations about this - we have a consensus). I will blog on this too!
# Go to a sleepover where there are also boys sleeping over, or no parents, or booze.
# Break the law (drink, smoke, get a tattoo, ride a motorbike)*.


Yes you can film and upload to YouTube.
Yes you can dye your hair blonde.
Yes you can borrow my expensive nail varnish, handbag, scarf.
Yes you can get up at 7.00am on Saturday to do aerobics.
Yes you can go out with friends.
Yes you can get on the bus and go to Starbucks.
Yes you can have £10 to buy more makeup, pens, music.
Yes you can buy your own clothes.
Yes you can have your ears pierced.
Yes you can buy and listen to dreadful music.
Yes you can decorate your room so it looks like a set from Country Living Magazine.
Yes you can buy those heels.
Yes you can watch Maze Runner 3 times in a row.
Yes you can post on Twitter, IG, FB, Pinterest.
Yes you can buy stuff from Amazon, Google Play.
Yes you can wax, pluck, shave.

*It's worth knowing that we live in London, a relatively poor area. London is not a city that any kid wants to get noticed by the police in. The police are fine, but they are damned scary. So actually the breaking the law rules that we have are pretty moot. I get told off when I drive over the speed limit.

There are so many more things I want to talk about.  It's too big of an area gloss over in one post. We need to talk about friends, boys, body image, holding grudges, money, and so, so, so much more.  The teenage brain is complex, changeable and changing. It is contrary.

But my greatest desire is that when my girls look back on their formative years they will remember that we were there. We were engaged. Positive. Supportive. Loving. That we were wise, helpful, forgiving and always, always their champions.

I would love to hear how you are raising girls that roar.

Thanks for reading.

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