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They need adults to help them grow

By Nathan Rice

I hit the send button on my phone with a simple text message. It just said, “Don’t forget to brush your teeth.” I added an emoji of a tooth before and after the sentence because it seems that those little images are more popular than complete sentences. I didn’t get a response, but I’ll be sending the same message again each evening for the foreseeable future.

It may seem like a strange message to send, but I am working with a young man who will be turning into an official teenager in a few weeks. We all know the transition from childhood into adolescence is difficult, and he has the added disadvantage of coming from a difficult home.

I’ve spoken with him about the many changes that take place as he enters adolescence, and I’ve agreed to help him take steps to grow into adulthood. The teenage years aren’t easy for parents, teachers and mentors, but they aren’t easy for the children going through them, either. Adulthood is coming quickly, and it’s our job to help them prepare.

Ask children to share some of their goals before you create a plan to help them grow. Ask them what they desire and listen to their dreams. From those goals, allow them to help make some steps to reach them and to pinpoint a goal. You may need to finesse the goal or adjust the steps, but getting their input allows them to have a sense of ownership of the process.

It is wise to divide steps into small, manageable, timely and achievable goals. Larger goals seem too distant for younger minds to comprehend. The ultimate goal may be to complete the school year with good grades, but the first step may be to return to a regular sleep cycle by going to bed and getting up at a specific time to prepare for the return. The next step may be to complete each night’s homework daily. Help them go towards the goal one step at a time.

Likewise, children and teens can have a hard time seeing the long-term consequences of their present-day decisions. Therefore, placing consequences and rewards for actions closer can help them stay focused. A statement such as “You’ll wish you had taken care of your teeth when you get older” is true but hard for teens to understand. A reward of some type in two weeks if teeth are brushed twice daily keeps the goal in sight, and the removal of a favorite game, item, or activity if teeth are not brushed brings an immediate consequence that may help them remember.

It’s important to remember that there will be successes and failures as you help children grow up. Some of the successes and failures may be from their part, but you may also have some on your own along the way. We cannot allow one failure to stop us from moving forward or one success to make us think that we have completed the journey.

Lastly, it is important to remember that children do not need a drill instructor. Helping children grow up will include times they need a push forward or a correction, but there will also be times when the thing they need most is a hug, a comforting word or positive affirmation.

Growing up is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. There will be good days and bad days, but keep your eyes on the prize. They may not admit it, but they need you to help them grow up.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.