The Social Combat of Being 13

12 10 2015

A New World Order for Young Teens

tired stressed girl7th and 8th grade is when the social life of a child amps up in three ways: importance, intensity, and consequences.

At 13, a child’s social standing becomes extremely important to them, as it has become more important to all the other 13 year olds. For some, it is the most important aspect of life itself. Most teens would rather go without food and shelter than suffer any sort of social trouble.

At 13, a child’s feelings of insecurity, awkwardness, and fear are at an all-time high. The hormones are raging, the insecurities are constant, and the emotional swings are intense. The biggest concern of every day is how to get through that whole day without any public embarrassment. Their fears are fueled by the intense anxieties of their peers. It’s a sea of fears as far as the adolescent eye can see.

At 13, a child’s social life seems chaotic. The social scene is changing. Old friends act like enemies or frenemies. New friends are unpredictable. Romances pop up, then pop like a bubble. Groups form, morph, and fold in a just few days. Relationships are unstable. Who knows what is next? The social consequences of one wrong move are felt intensely.

It’s been this way for a long time in American culture, probably since the post-war 1940’s. For at least the past 70 years, the early teen years have always been tumultuous. 

Wired TeensNow, enter smartphones, Instagram, and Snapchat. These online tools are like gasoline to the bonfire of the young teen’s social life. Conflagrations erupt online every day. Social media has created a social combat zone for middle school children. It’s the Wild West of the World Wide Web.

Some kids are learning quickly to stay out of the drama online, but it’s a widespread epidemic that is largely inescapable for the vast majority of young teens. 

On CNN, Anderson Cooper and some researchers reveal what kids are doing to each other online in the realm of social media. It’s a documentary called #Being13. I think Mr. Cooper was searching for the good in it, and he found an overwhelming amount of bad and ugly in it. He was shocked at the widespread and nasty nature of so much of the interactions. Watch the brief video. It’s worth your time. Click here for the full video.

No matter how you slice it, there is no way of getting around that fact that the social landscape is much much different now in the age of smartphones and social media. The social lives of kids will never be the same. It is forever changed. The social lives of young teens is now a combat zone.

Avoiding Addiction

Michael Simon says in his book titled The Approximate Parent, “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains—especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.”

Rather than forbidding our young teens from using all mobile devices, we must teach them to view the world as an exciting and wonderful place of beauty and truth that is filled with good people who have so much to teach us. Yet we have to be very careful out there in the online world. By explaining the rules of the road—and the reasons for the rules—kids can think critically in situations where perhaps there is no set rule or when they are just not thinking about the rules.

The bottom line is that parents and teachers must be involved in the digital lives of kids if we’re going to help prevent dangerous situations and consequences that could last a lifetime. The kids will not find the right path on their own—that is for certain.

So we must train our kids to be extremely careful with what they put online, especially on social media. Every word and image made with a digital device should be treated as public and permanent.

Social Media Tips

  1. Delay all social media involvement as long as possible. I recommend not allowing Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any others (and they are continually evolving) until a child is fourteen. At that point, ease into them slowly. This may seem puritan, but I’ve worked full-time for twenty years with middle school children, and I know that most young teens struggle to survive the school lunchroom. What makes us think they can handle the bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred arena of social media? Delay, then ease in with guidance.
  2. When the time comes, parents should have full access to every account, password, and friendship their kids have on every social media site. It might be best to have the kids share an account with Mom or Dad while they learn the rules of the road, like a driver’s permit. Granting children total online privacy is a very bad idea, no matter what anyone says. Also, be sure to carefully set each site’s settings for security. By default, they are all set for total openness, which makes for a scary lack of privacy.
  3. Make sure your children never, ever “friend” someone online who they do not know personally. Every online social connection must correspond with a real friendship in the real world. And personal information should never be given online that wouldn’t be given face to face.
  4. Remind children often that every picture, every message, and everything that is done online may stay online forever, and can be taken as a screenshot and forwarded in an instant. There is no such thing as online privacy, and the Internet remembers everything, so kids must proceed with great caution.
  5. Make sure that every mobile device and computer has a password-protected lock on the home screen. This ensures that their friends cannot pose as them or steal any of their pictures.
  6. Let your kids know that if anything happens online that is strange or upsetting in any way, they need to tell a parent, who can determine how to handle it best. Transparency and trust are a must.
  7. Be “friends” with your child online, but do not post comments and pictures for their friends to see. Be cool. Just watch and learn. Limit your online communications with them to texting and e-mailing. E-mail them funny and informative things that they will like. Let them know that you are there, that you care, and that you love them. Send them good news, encouraging messages, and inside jokes regularly.
  8. Allow absolutely no social media late at night. Set a time, perhaps 8:00 P.M., when all devices are turned off and returned to the family docking station in the kitchen or the parents’ bedroom. All screens should be shut down at least thirty minutes before bedtime to make it easier to fall asleep.
  9. Have a digital Sabbath now and then, when the whole family turns off all devices for a day, or a half day at least. If your children struggle with wanting to check their online lives during these times, then it’s time to cut back. Same for you. Get outside, if possible.
  10. Keep a close connection with your young teenager. This way, when trouble comes, they will be more willing to talk with you about it. 

This is combat. We have to train our kids to protect themselves and to get help when it’s overwhelming.


A portion of this material originates from Critical Connection: A Practical Guide to Parenting Young Teens.

The Work Hards

3 10 2015

There is a strange insult on youth athletic fields these days.

“Don’t be such a Work Hard” is a slam that is meant to mock the hardest working players at practice. In most cases, it’s more a tease than a direct insult, but we all know that “I was just joking” is no joke.

GH_FBALL_2_1“Yeah, he’s a Work Hard” is meant to discourage the sort of aggressive play that requires extra-hard running, physical contact, and mental intensity. It’s a sarcastic swipe at the up-and-comers. Often it comes from the older or starting player who is feeling the pressure of a younger harder working player. It’s a way of saying, “Dude, take it down a notch. It’s just practice. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” In most cases, the coaches are not aware of it because it is said out of their earshot. 

This attitude of entitlement and laziness has no place in youth sports. It’s an insidious message to young kids that says, “Talent is better than effort. Hard work is just annoying.” It’s an elitist attitude that says, “Hey, back off, this is my position on the team. You aren’t entitled to it. Your extra effort reveals your lack of talent.”  It represents all that youth sports should NOT be about. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Are All the Kids Indoors?

19 07 2015


In the middle-class family-oriented neighborhoods around me, I just don’t see kids outside much. It’s rare to see a kid on a bike, much less playing a game in the yard. There are schools all over the place, so there must be thousands of kids nearby, but they are invisible.

I see a few at the local swimming pools, but not en masse, not like they were 20 years ago. I see a few at the shopping malls, but it’s nothing like in the 1980’s when the malls were the center of teenage social life. And I see them in cars riding with mom, but their faces are always angled downward toward some mobile device.

Sure, there are the soccer players on the artificial turf, lined up for competition, but their play is hyper-regulated by rules, refs, coaches, and parents. Organized sports are terrific, but it’s not the only way or even the best way for kids to be outdoors.

Where are the explorers? Read the rest of this entry »

Your Family. Your Culture.

14 04 2015

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

People-Mag-CoverMost parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Read the rest of this entry »

If You Have 4th-8th Graders…

26 02 2015

…you should watch this 2-minute video that explains “early adolescence” and the need for doing things a little differently.

Living on 1 Dollar Per Day

10 02 2015

Young people in America need to know more about real poverty, and this video is possibly the best I have ever seen at getting kids to relate to abject poverty. It’s entertaining and educational. They pack a lot of information and experiences into just 28 minutes. Plus, it’s appropriate for kids age 11 and up, since there are no deeply disturbing images.


Discussion Questions for Kids

1. How would you describe these men and their lifestyle in America?

2. Why do you think they decided to set such strict rules for their time in Haiti?

3. Does this sort of adventure appeal to you in any way? In what ways?

4. What would worry you the most about living in a tent in Haiti for a month?

5. How tolerant are you of being hungry and eating only simple foods like rice and beans?

6. What is the longest you have ever been hungry? Describe that time.

7. Describe the most grueling physical work you have ever done. What was it? How long did you work? Did you get paid (or fed or anything) for your work?

8. What part of this 28 day experience do you find most intimidating or terrifying? Explain why.


Parenting is Regulating

29 01 2015

Every parent should regulate their children’s behavior until they are ready to regulate their own. It will likely be a 20-year process, which starts with full regulatory control of the infant and ends with total release of all control at adulthood.

What does it mean “to regulate?” In grammatical terms, it is a transitive verb, meaning that a subject rules or governs another object by adjusting the time, amount, degree, or rate of something upon the object.

Let’s take food, for example. An infant has no idea how to handle his hunger pains, can’t make decisions about food, and can’t feed himself. It is the parent’s job to fully control the diet of the child. The twenty-year old, on the other hand, should have mature eating habits within his full control: when to eat, what to eat, how much, how to shop, how to cook, how to balance his nutrition with exercise, etc. Read the rest of this entry »


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