And think about this... (I know I have plenty of times recently!!) Do you have a junior or senior in high school? Well within the next 2 years, they are likely about to be VERY new to a college campus! When I think about Abbey leaving home in less than two years, I have a mini panic attack wondering if I've covered everything (I quite certainly haven't) and if she'll be prepared for that big scary world out there (by God's grace!).
Anyway, I am writing this from what I know is the unique perspective of having kids who are frequently the new kids in various social settings and have had to learn to adapt to that, BUT having grown up overseas, they are also somewhat comfortable with newness and transition. Notice I didn't say it was easy. Just possibly more comfortable. We are raising TCKs (Third Culture Kids). They were born into one distinct culture (American), they are being raised in another distinct culture (Middle Eastern), yet they find themselves not fully belonging to either and therefore have their own, very unique, third culture. We've moved around a lot (though not as much as some!), their peer group changes a good bit from one year to the next, and they have to learn to say goodbye a lot more often than anyone would like.
Two of them are also teenage girls. And that, my friends, is a very unique group of people who require a very unique set of relational skills. To be fair to my girls- I do have to say that so far we have found the teen years with them to be pretty fun. Yes, there is emotion. Yes, there is drama, but overall- good times! I guess that's a good thing since about the time Abbey turned 13, we realized that we would have a teenage daughter under our roof for the next 18 years of our lives. Teenage girls better be people we can relate to!
You can pray for us....
As I said, our girls are very accustomed to being "the new kids" in both situations where there are lots of "new kids" (because we are around a lot of other families like us) OR where they are the ONLY "new kids" (because we are entering into a group of people like who I grew up with who started in church nursery together and are about to graduate high school!). Obviously those are vastly different scenarios, and navigating such waters with teenagers requires a lot of time on the knees. So, recognizing our perspective, I hope that some of the things we are learning, can help others in the same boat navigate these waters AND help those who are receiving "new kids" into their established peer groups and social situations be welcoming.
So these thoughts have been percolating for the past year or so and have been collected as I've watched my girls, especially my teenagers, in various social situations. Situations in which they've both thrived as they've been with other TCKs who "get" them on a unique level, and situations where they have really struggled with being the odd man out. In trying to draw from my own experiences, I've felt very old as I've realized how much times have changed! My generation did not have the social media world to contend with as teenagers and that is definitely another subject altogether, but it is also pretty relevant when it comes to basic relationship skills. All in all, I've kind of narrowed it down to three things that I really want to be sure my girls know when it comes to relating to other people, being a good friend and functioning in a world where your iWhatever has pretty much become an appendage. I've given up on trying to completely resist that battle, but I think we have got to find a healthy balance in continuing to teach our kids the value of face-to-face, real life relationships.
So here are 3 things that the girls and I have talked frequently about when it comes to both being and welcoming the new kids. We've also applied these things to basic relationship skills with peers and adults. It's very important to Jason and me to have kids who are able to carry on conversations well and relate well to friends of all ages! A few years ago, I wrote THIS post with 10 things I would tell new moms. For moms of teens, I whittled my list down to 3. I just thought I was tired as a new mom. Parenting teens is a whole new level of tired so I'm keeping the list simple!
I am sharing these with the heart of a learner. I am sure there are more things, better things, different things that are working for others! These are things that are currently working for us and I'm sure I will edit it along the way as our daughters lives, relationships and personalities continue to develop. I welcome your feedback and thoughts!
- Look up! from your phone, your computer, your kindle- whatever it is. Be engaged where you are with the people who are physically in your presence. You may not know them well and they may not know you well, and it's guaranteed to stay that way if you are all on your devices in your own little electronic worlds instead of interacting in the real world. When I talked with my girls about this one, I asked them why they thought it was so much easier to make friends in a group of other TCKs (in many situations, most of whom start out as strangers to each other) than in a group of kids in the states. Maddie pointed out that most TCKs have, on some level, experienced how fleeting relationships can be. They have to say goodbye too soon and they have learned the importance of taking advantage of every moment of conversation and face time they have with friends they are developing relationships with. Of course, also in our world of frequent goodbyes, we are thankful for the ability to STAY connected through social media but when you are WITH people, when you are in the process of forming relationships, LOOK UP from your device! Notice I didn't say to put it up or even turn it off completely. I recognize that teens often interact over the world of social media even while they are with each other, but find a balance. You may be looking at funny videos together or even looking at someone's instagram feed or (not Facebook- I'm told that's becoming irrelevant for teens but what do I know) whatever your current social media of choice is. Whatever it is, look up from it. Engage with the people you are physically with. How? You might ask. That's the next point...
- Engage others with questions about themselves and their lives. I feel like this is a pretty obvious thing that shouldn't have to be said, but somehow I still feel like it is a dying art. I mean, truth be told, anything you want to know as far as facts, you can look it up on the internet in the blink of an eye. But that cannot take the place of hearing people's life stories and learning from their experiences. I want my girls to be the kind of people that make other people feel valued and important because they show interest in them. Ask people questions about where they live, what they enjoy doing, what their opinions are about certain things. I guarantee that you will learn something and in the process you will have the chance to make someone else feel like they matter. It made me sad when both of my teenage daughters expressed to me that, in the social situations they had the chance to experience during our time in the states, not one of their peers asked them the first question about who they were and where they lived. I mean, I'm a little biased, but I feel like my girls have a good bit to offer as far as life experiences and it made me sad that neither of them really had the chance to express that. And yes, I do recognize that it goes both ways, and, as the "new kids", you often have to put yourselves out there and offer information that is not asked for and that's challenging to do for adults, much less teens! So that conversation has been had also. However, because of this experience, we've also had the chance to talk about how important it is to ask people questions about their lives and engage on that level. They've lived and experienced what it's like to not be asked, so they understand how important it is to ask! I mean, let's be real. We really like to talk about ourselves and what we've experienced and what we think about this or that. We even
likelove to take pictures of ourselves doing whatever we're doing at any given moment, which leads me to my next point...
- Turn the lens away from yourself and back towards the world you are living in! I mean, I'm not gonna lie, I love a good selfie as much as the next person, WITH my girls or WITH my husband in a cool place, but somehow the whole selfie thing has gone WAY over the top in my opinion. I remember the days of my uncle setting up the camera on a tripod and running around to his place in the extended family picture, and well, I guess even in the world of selfies, that might still happen, but that's not the point. The point is, the selfie thing is a dangerous game especially for teenage girls. It points to an obsession with self and appearance and even establishing certain appearances that is unhealthy. It points to an obsession with self OVER other people. If you are constantly turning the lens back on yourself it is impossible for you to see, really see, with an eye of compassion, the needs of people around you. And it's not so much the selfie itself as the idea behind it, and the follow-up after a selfie of "well how many likes did your picture get? so and so got this many likes, wonder why she get more than me?" etc etc. It's a culture built around the idea of self-promotion and it just sits wrong with me on so many levels. Let's encourage our kids, our teenagers, to look at the world around them with eyes that truly see the people they are interacting with. Not with eyes that are wondering how they can use this situation to build an online image, or how their hair or make-up looks in the most recently uploaded pic. We, and many other Christian families I know of, have deliberately parented our girls from the start with the idea that they were welcome members of our family, NOT the centers of our family. We were deliberate to structure our family in a way that did not scream to our kids that it revolved around them. I feel like our current culture is trying to hijack those beliefs and screaming at our kids, our teens, to build an image for themselves that says it's all about me me me. Focusing on others automatically takes your focus off of yourself, so I say to my girls, turn the lens back towards the world you're living in. SEE the world as God intends you to see it, with eyes of compassion and a heart of love for all peoples.
So there you have it. These are not amazingly profound by any means, but they have been great conversation starters for us, especially with our teens. Just asking if they put themselves out there and talked to someone they might not have otherwise (look up), if they found out something new about a person or place (engage with questions) or did they keep their eyes focused on the people around them as opposed to themselves (turn the lens outward). Simple? yes. Easy? Definitely not.
And if you're praying for us now with the 2 teens we have now, we're gonna need you to beef up those prayers significantly in another 5-7 years when this dynamic duo hits the teenage years together...
My prayer for all of us, whether we are in "new kid" type situations or in our most comfortable setting, is that we will overflow with love for those around us and that we will live as learners, making the most of the situations that God puts us in. I am not meaning to connect these verses or take them out of context, but I love that in and of themselves they are reminders of God's sovereignty in the places that He has us, as well as the ways we should go about living our lives.
"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."
"Be very careful then, how you live- not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."