The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 4

This is the fourth part in a series excerpted from my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.

CONNECTEDNESS

The “C” of the “ABCD’s” of raising highly healthy children and nurturing highly healthy teens is “Connectedness.” It includes connecting with your kids, connecting your kids with good friends, and connecting your kids with their Creator.

Author, physician, and Harvard psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell believes that connection (what I call connectedness) is the most important part of the cycle children need in order to thrive. In other words, connectedness is foundational to our teens’ becoming highly healthy.

Connectedness to parents is the anchor; however, connectedness to friends, school activities, extracurricular activities, and even work (in the form of part-time jobs) makes up the mortar for building a highly healthy foundation for adulthood.

In this section we’ll discuss connectedness with family.

All happy families are alike,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in the opening line of Anna Karenina, “but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Perhaps Tolstoy was knocking these “happy families” as being too conventional and uninteresting, but nothing could be further from the truth. At the core of what Tolstoy calls “happy families” (and what I call “highly healthy families”) are parents and children connected to one another in a way that is mutually satisfying to both generations.

On top of this foundation, highly healthy teens tend to be positively connected to the world around them.

We may nod our heads at that simple truth, but in reality all parents have difficulty finding enough time to spend with their teens. And teens need time with their parents to share their problems, successes, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

As hard as this is to do with younger children, the challenge is even greater for parents of teens navigating the choppy waters of adolescence.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, most parents assume that their teens need them less as they form strong bonds with friends, schoolmates, and teammates. How surprised would you be to find out there’s a lot of research showing that, instead of pulling away from their parents, most teens prefer to form even closer relationships with their parents?

Yes, you read that right!

Yet for this to take place, parents must be willing to spend time with their teens—time to listen, time to reason, and time to seek and respect their input. The goal of this difficult but necessary transition is to nurture highly healthy teens who have a strong sense of their individual and unique identity, all the while maintaining a close emotional bond with their parents.

A teen’s connectedness with his or her parents is characterized by the quality of the emotional bond between parent and child and by the degree to which this bond is both mutual and sustained over time.

In such an environment, affirmation, blameless love, connectedness, and discipline result in an emotional and relational climate in which affection, warmth, satisfaction, and trust are balanced with appropriate limits, expectations, and discipline.

On this foundation, parents give their children increasing levels of adult responsibility and trust.

Parents and teens who share a high degree of connectedness enjoy spending time together, communicate freely and openly, support and respect one another, share similar values, and have a sense of optimism about the future.

The degree of connectedness teens have with their parents has been shown by reams of recent research, or what researchers call a “compelling super-protector” in a family, to protect teens from the many challenges and risks they face in today’s toxic culture and world.

CONNECTING IN THE FAMILY

Earlier in the book, I mentioned my friend Edward M. Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. Dr. Hallowell says it well: “Connection—in the form of unconditional love from an adult, usually one or both parents—is the single most important childhood root of adult happiness.”

Back in chapter 3, I talked about a major decision I had made: to cut back on my patient load two afternoons a week so I could connect with Kate and Scott and spend more time with each of them. When I initially suggested this to my business partner, I knew I’d have to take a cut in pay. It turned out that 25 percent of my salary was lopped off.

Barb was a stay-at-home mom, so my salary was all the money coming into our home. Investing time with my children carried a significant price tag—both monetarily and professionally, but looking back, all I can say is, What a bargain!

I got to spend two afternoons a week with my children during their growing-up years. During their years in elementary school, I would read to them, take them on walks around the lake, or help them with their homework.

Sharing those experiences was a great way for the kids and me to connect.

I remember one time asking Kate whether she’d be willing to help me be more consistent in my spiritual walk. As we batted around the idea, she asked, “Do you think we could have a quiet time together before breakfast?”

Kate knew she (and I!) would have to get up a half hour earlier than normal, but she was eager to “help” Dad. For a number of years, we’d read our Bibles together in the quiet of the dawning day. We also memorized Scripture together—she was a whiz at it while I was a klutz. Her precocious ability to recite Scripture from memory allowed me to compliment her repeatedly— building her self-confidence.

One year we ordered an Adopt-a-Leader kit from the National Day of Prayer website. Kate wanted to pray for twenty leaders, beginning with her school principal, then the school superintendent, our town mayor, the two county commissioners, our state assemblyman, our U.S. congressman, our two state senators, and the U.S. president.

We prayed for our leaders every Friday morning. The Adopt-a-Leader kit came with cards we could send to the leaders to tell them we were praying for them. Among others, Kate sent a card to our new U.S. Congressman, David Weldon, letting him know we were praying for God to give him wisdom as he served the country.

Representative Weldon would send Kate a personal reply each month, thanking her for her prayers and letting her know some specific things she could pray about. They became pen pals.

During middle school, our family went to Washington, D.C., and Kate had a special visit with Representative Weldon, where they talked and prayed. Kate’s trip to our nation’s capital as a young teen seeded within her a desire to return someday.

Following graduation from college, she applied for a White House internship, and she received the nod to become an intern in the speechwriter’s office. And guess who was one of the first to invite her to lunch? Congressman Weldon, with whom she had established a long-term prayer relationship.

If you think Representative Weldon was encouraged to know that a teen was praying for him, consider how close Kate and I became when we prayed together. Kate has been challenged by cerebral palsy and doesn’t walk well. The teen years could have been very difficult for Kate, but I was blessed to be my daughter’s cheerleader and prayer partner.

I’m convinced that affirmation (cheering), blameless (unconditional) love, and connectedness (spelled T-I-M- E) provided the foundation for her to become highly healthy.

Home family activities are amazingly important to teens.

Having a home your teens feel comfortable in (and enjoy inviting their friends into) builds family intimacy in ways that increase their self-image.

This can mean turning your basement or family room into a playroom. A pool table, Ping Pong table, foosball table, PlayStation, or a table where teens can have snacks or play board games are great accoutrements in a home.

These items can sometimes be found at garage sales for a fraction of their retail price. Let your imagination reign— we’re not talking House Beautiful here.

Make your teen hangout comfortable. All you need is some sturdy furniture, plenty of light, a decent rug, and a well- stocked refrigerator.

Highly healthy families plan great vacations together.

An ideal family vacation reduces stress and allows parents and teens to relax together without having to be on the go continually.

Camping is an excellent alternative to pricey “fly in” vacations. Time slows down when you pitch a tent in a state or national park. You can get reacquainted with nature as you listen to the wind tickle the branches of tall firs along a glassy lake.

There’s something magical about sitting around a campfire under the eye of a full moon, swapping stories while making s’mores.

Beyond the natural beauty, camping is also a great way to teach teens responsibility. They can help set up the tent, collect firewood, and clean up after dinner.

I realize some families aren’t wild about camping. Some turn up their noses at the idea of sleeping in the dirt and using outhouses—which are too far away when you need one and too close when you don’t.

Others say, “What kind of vacation is that?” If this describes you, then be creative and plan vacations that fall within your budget and play to your interests. Be sure to take some time to consider where your treasure is when it comes to your family.

I’d urge you not to make the mistake of skimping on family vacations to keep your teens’ wardrobes filled with the latest fashion or to provide them with their own cars. You’re sacrificing time for things!

And once your teens are out of the house, you can never get that time back.

You can learn more about this topic in my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.

To learn more, you can read these other posts:

Here are three other posts that may be helpful in nurturing highly, healthy teens: