#AskListenLearn and Trust Your Kid

Source: Responsibility.org

Gomer is going into seventh grade in a couple weeks. Seventh. Grade. When did my sweet, cuddly, mild-mannered preschooler get replaced with a perpetually bored, eye-rolling, snarky man-boy?

Last year was his first year of middle school and we talked with him a lot about how that was his year to mess up and figure stuff out on his own. Of course, we'd be there for him if he had something major going on, but he could no longer count on Mommy and Daddy to bring forgotten homework to the school or talk to a teacher about a grade he didn't agree with. We weren't going to pester him about homework or tests. If he wanted us to help him, we would, but we weren't going to micromanage him the way we did in elementary school. It was time for the baby bird to stand up a little bit on his own.

All in all, it was a good experiment. His grades dipped a bit, but not because he didn't understand the work, rather it all boiled down to time-management, keeping track of his work, and following directions--all good lessons we could all learn!

We decided this year will be the "Year of No." I know a lot of you are doing the "Year of Yes," so this probably sounds outrageous to you, but hear me out. Kids in my house don't get a lot of opportunity to say "No." They get choices, but they're always choices that I'm comfortable with: "Would you like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a ham sandwich for lunch?" or "It's 30 degrees out, which hat will you wear?" The Hubs and I are revising that approach. We've decided to give Gomer a little leeway where he can say, "No." We will stop "demanding" hugs and kisses from him, he can say, "No." (It will break my heart, but I'll manage.) We will give him some personal space and allow him to decline hanging out on the couch with the family for "America's Got Talent" night or tag along to the grocery store. We will not force friendships on him that he doesn't want. We will not beg him to sign up to try out for the school play, even though I think he'd be ah-may-zing. We will let him choose his own path...sometimes. I mean, he still needs to eat, shower, show us his phone, go to bed when we tell him, etc. I'm not insane!  

The reason why we're doing this is because we've noticed how hard it is for people to say "No." We say "yes," because we want to be nice and helpful and that's all fine and well, but if we're spread too thin, we're no help. It would have been better for everyone if we'd said, "Sorry, but I can't." We say "yes" for fear of being excluded. We don't want to be left out. We don't want to be perceived as losers. I hear women lament all day long about how over scheduled they are and how they wish they could say "no." Most of the time the things they're saying "yes" to are harmless: volunteering, hot yoga, carpooling, etc. but sometimes it can be detrimental. 

I've noticed that it's hard for parents to let their kids say "No." Now that Gomer's in middle school I've joined a few parenting groups for tweens and teens. Gone are the potty-training woes and now it's all about secret apps on their phones and sneaking out and all that good stuff. In between real actual drama, I hear complaints every now and again about kids who inexplicably drop their friends or change their lifestyles. Now, I'm not talking about kids who are spiraling into a depression or doing drugs or self-harming, I'm talking about kids who just no longer want to hang out with the same group they did in elementary school. The parents are worried and they wonder what's happening? They were always such good friends! The moms are all friends and this will be so awkward now if my son doesn't go on the annual ski trip with them! We have to get them back together! And there is always a voice or two of reason that chimes in, "Trust your child. You've raised him well. Maybe those kids are up to no good. Maybe he's lost his connection to them. Maybe he's tired of them. Whatever it is, he doesn't want them in his life anymore and that's okay. Trust your child." 

Last year we noticed Gomer had changed his crew and I admit, I had that burst of panic: WHAT IS HAPPENING?? We asked if everything was okay and he let us know that everything was fine. "I just don't like the way some of those guys act," he said. "I like my new friends better." Trust your child, I thought.

This is a step towards maturity for Gomer. Towards figuring out who he is. I've always said I want to raise leaders who think for themselves and don't go along with the group and saying, "No" is an important step. If Gomer learns now to advocate for himself now and to feel comfortable saying, "No" then he'll be better equipped to face the challenges of being a teenager. There's a lot of pressure out there to join everything. I see FOMO (fear of missing out) posts all over social media and as a 45-year-old woman I have twinges, so imagine how a 13-year-old feels? I want to alleviate this pressure. Because Gomer will have the confidence to say, "No" to his friends when they beg him to join whatever organization he's not interested in, when someone offers him an alcoholic beverage I hope he'll have the courage to tell them "No" too. He'll have our support when he calls us and asks us to pick him up from a party because he refused to get into a car with an impaired driver. Ever since I started working with Responsibility.org a few years ago, we've been talking to him about responsible drinking. It's an ongoing topic of discussion with my kids, because I know that one conversation isn't enough. We are always looking for new ways to empower them to make good choices and the Ask, Listen, Learn campaign is geared towards middle schoolers and high schools, so it's been an invaluable tool to our family.

Gomer will still feel pressures, of course, but I'm hoping they won't be as strong because he will be confident in who he is. I hope that he won't let the gang drag him along because he's so worried about pleasing everyone and fitting in. I am hoping that he will be drawn to other kids like himself and he'll surround himself with like-minded friends.

I can only talk to him so much, but then I have to trust that he's hearing me. 

This post was sponsored by Responsiblity.org and I am part of the #Asklistenlearn blogger program. All views and opinions are my own. Thanks to Reponsibility.org for always encouraging me to find ways to talk to my kids about this important topic.


Unknown said...

This is really timely. My son's turning 13 this week and will start 7th grade in the fall -- your perspective gave me a lot to think on here. Our kids make their own choices and we've been shifting our school approach moving from elementary to middle. I'll be talking with hubby about the concept of the year of No, though. Thanks for the post.

Brett Minor said...

My son had several different groups of friends over the years. There are only two that he stayed with through his entire childhood, but even they grew apart after reaching adulthood. A person goes through so many changes over the first 20 years of their life, it would be kind of insane to expect them to maintain the same friendships the entire time.

I'm totally with you. They have to be given some freedom to make their own decisions so they don't self-destruct when they are finally actually out there on their own.

Overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies

By now we have all heard of the adorable little Elf on the Shelf . Almost everyone I know has one.  Some people even have two!  (Now I'...

Popular Posts