Helping 12-14 year old girls thrive

Friends on campsite grill marshmallow sittingOur daughter Princess is currently 13 ½ years old and seems to be really thriving. We have made a decision as parents that we are going to really enjoy the teenage years. This includes changing our speech to reflect that and being aware of what we say about teenagers etc. Our words have power so we are deliberately focusing on how great the teenage years will be.

I am aware though, that not everyone really thrives during these years. In the last year, 9 out of the 14 of her closest friends were suffering in some way, four being admitted to hospital with anorexia nervosa or an undiagnosed stress related illness and another five on anti-depressants or were seeing a psychologist. These figures alarmed me. Princess’s friends were from church, home school, sporting clubs, and the neighbourhood. Further, another 3 of them, including Princess, had had chronic tiredness and dizziness. What was happening to all our girls? My local doctor believes that this is a strategy from the enemy (Satan) to take out a whole generation.

I believe that the following ten tips may help you as parents help your daughters navigate this age and live full healthy lives.

  1. Pray – for them and with them. Pray big prayers. Bless their spirit of an evening as they are going to bed. Let your words be the last they hear as they go to sleep.
  2. Pacing / sleep. Kids this age are similar in their needs to 2-4 year olds. They need a lot of sleep. If they struggle with getting to sleep, find ways to help them. As a family, also look at how you pace your weekends and spare time. Princess is very fortunate that we home school and she has several days each week where she is surrounded only by her brother and myself. This gives her time to re-energise emotionally. She is actually an introvert although she comes across as an extrovert as she has plenty of time during the week to re-energise. Thus, she can ‘party hard’ around friends on weekends. Look at how your family paces itself on the weekend. If your daughter is at school all week, especially if they have a difficult time with friends at school, please don’t fill their weekends up with social activities so that they don’t have time to re-energise. Have time as a family at home together for a significant portion of a day so as to fill up their emotional and physical tanks.
  3. Nutrition. When Princess was struggling with dizziness, our local doctor was amazing. Princess had had glandular fever but she had pushed through and kept up her swimming squad training of 3-4 sessions per week. Unfortunately she had gone to swimming at 5.45am on an empty stomach as she couldn’t stomach trying to eat breakfast beforehand. When she came home, she was too tired to eat so went straight to bed. Thus, she was trying to run her body on empty. Within 2 days of implementing a diet high in protein and regular meals and snacks every 2 hours, plus having a protein shake before swimming, she was a different person and the dizziness left and the blood pressure returned to normal. Girls this age need a lot of protein. Parents please note that this can also be the age when they decide they want to be a vegetarian, but please make sure they get the iron and protein in their diet. Also limit the sugar and other foods that can affect their emotions.
  4. Active in sport. They has been a lot of research on girls this age and the long term benefits of being involved in a high intensity of sport. They need to be pushing their body physically (and appropriately) several times per week for the benefits. Plus, at an age where body looks count greatly, the short term benefits are great also.
  5. Lifestyle of thankfulness. Exude thankfulness as a parent and as a family. Teach your children to be genuinely thankful in all circumstances. Have a daily time where each family member expresses what they are thankful for. Thankfulness also helps counteract entitlement.
  6. Fun family times. Cement great family times and relationships by trying to have at least one daily meal together and chat about the good things and the not so good things that day. If you get stuck, or to add some fun, try filling a jar with questions that are conversation starters such as “What would you do if (a certain situation) happened?” The benefits of questions like this actually give them something to remember to do if they are ever presented with that situation in real life.
  7. Make time to listen to them when they want to talk (Usually it is when you want to sleep or are busy.) Build an open relationship with them where they can tell you everything and anything and they won’t feel judged. It is not appropriate to be their best friend, you are their parent, but foster open communication.
  8. Encourage healthy friendships and promote them. Help them see any co-dependent behaviour in particular friends who are needy and clingy. We talk about ‘close’ friendships in our home instead of ‘best’ friends as this helps break the exclusiveness and co-dependence of best friends and promotes a broader range of friends and others doing stuff without you always having to be present. Encourage your teenager to always be honest about what they are doing and with whom, even with other friends.
  9. It is vital that kids this age still have chores and responsibilities around the home that they do without being nagged about. This morning, Princess arrived home after swimming squad and immediately decided to clean the bathroom and toilet before having a sleep. There was no argument. She chose to do it earlier in the day so as to leave later free from chores. Also, please encourage them to serve in the community, to do something for others without any form of recognition.
  10. Try to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’, but when you say ‘no’, make it final. Find things to say yes to and to give them freedom if it has been earned but be prepared to say no. You are not going to scar your teenager for life if they can’t go to an event where all their friends are going if there is a good reason to not allow them. Make sure you explain your reasons. Try and say yes to church and youth groups if they are healthy places for them to attend. Be open with them and watch your behaviour and attitude as they will mirror that.

A final word on boyfriends/girlfriends. I am currently privy to seeing teenagers and parents discussing the concept that there is no boyfriend or girlfriend until their teenager reaches a certain age eg 16 or 18. The age is not really the point, maturity and distraction is. Plus, I am seeing girls and boys who are prohibited until they are older from saying that they are boyfriend/girlfriend but they are spending at least an hour or two each day texting or chatting over the phone. With time spent like that, a deep emotional bond develops that is boyfriend/girlfriend even though in theory they are not allowed to be called that. Parents, be careful of the texting, chatting, social media and the impact of that.

Praying that you too can enjoy these years with your 12-14 year old.