The transition from childhood to being a “teenager” is one of the hardest we ever make. It seems in our current past faced world where we travel with information at our fingertips now available on every smartphone that there is no place, not even the toilet, that we seem to go without being attached to the outside world! There are of course amazing things about the way human beings have developed technology and how we are driven to find better ways to communicate and learn. There are also all of the downsides that you will know about in terms of increased stress, cyber bullying, access to innappropriate content by our kids and so on. We have all read many articles about how technology is affecting our kids.

The other big factor that impacts on our children as they grow into their teen years is media and pop culture. We seem to be pushing our kids to grow up much earlier than before, as if the fast pace at which information travels across the globe is somehow being reflected in a constant drive to make children become little adults. I am no prude but images of young girls with very little clothing permeate our media. Songs about guys “taking what they want” abound. Clothing is offered to children that would be best seen on a street corner. Schools set hours and hours of homework to younger and younger children and the drive to achieve more and more is relentless. The time to just sit under a tree and make a mud pie can be lost.

Add to this an ever increasing population and decreasing world resources and it is easy to feel there is a recipe for disaster for our young people, who are the future of our world. If you look at it from this macro level, of world debt, famine, war and conflict, global warming and all the awful horrible things the media like to display about our world, it is easy to become very depressed about the future for our kids. So you can imagine what this does to our children and their confidence levels. They are continually bombarded with images of how they “should” look, “should” act, “should talk”, “should be”. And they see the ever present celebrity set bouncing around in a world that seems intoxicating and dreamlike. To aspire to be a “celebrity” now seems to be a career path of its own! We often see however that these celebrities are not all happy and “living the life”. Take the tragic passing of Amy Winehouse and all of the many of the “rich and famous” set whose lives have ended in tragic circumstances.

So how can we as parents ensure our young people grow up healthy and happy? How do we instill in them, the confidence to be whatever it is they want to be and not to worry about what other people think?

Part of the challenge is to stop and look at things from a micro level. By this I mean by looking just at your individual child, family and community. Instead of looking out into the world and worrying about what may or may not be, about comparing to others, about buying the latest gadgets, latest fashion for your children – focus on the here and now of your child and their journey into teenage years within your family and community. Who is your child? What are they really like? Remember when you first met them and what they were like as a baby and young child. Make sure you stay in touch with the reality of your child and not the mindless mash of information and ideas our world has about young people.

Mindfulness – focussing on the here and now and learning to be present in the moment -can help with this. Our children need to learn skills that can assist them to do this. Yoga and mindfulness practices can help them to have an increased sense of peace and wellbeing, which in turn leads to increased confidence. 

How we feel about ourselves is also vital. If we put ourselves down, talk about how “hopeless” we are, how “fat” we are, how much we are feeling like a failure? This reflects on our children. We need to model positive feelings about ourselves, so that our children can see it is ok to feel good about ourselves no matter who we are. Open and honest conversations with your children about how they are feeling about themselves, how they are doing at school, what friends they have – help to make sure you can pick up if they are not feeling so confident about themselves. This is often best done when involved in an activity, particularly with boys. Sitting them down for a chat does often not work! However sharing your day around the dinner table is a very important place for keeping these communication channels open.

Children who are entering the pre-teen years feel very mixed up from time to time. My middle son is turning 13 this weekend and as he traveled into the pre-teens he would move between being a “little boy” and being a “teenager” from one moment to the next. This is ok and totally normal. In fact it is totally normal for this to continue into their teens. Allowing your pre-teen to take on some extra responsibility and feel they have some more “grown up” tasks can really help them to gain confidence also.

Importantly remember that in the pre-teen years kids may be tempted into being a teenager well before they are ready and as parents it is easy to fall into this trap. Trying to set boundaries around appropriate viewing, gaming and social activities will help your pre-teen to enjoy this stage of their life, rather than trying to grow up too soon. After all we know this happens in the blink of an eye. Make sure you don’t blink and miss it.