There are platitudes a plenty about parenting. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. Blink and you’ll miss it. But when you need real advice to help you out when your kids reach those tricky tween and teen years, where do you turn? Especially when it seems like every day brings a new challenging situation that threatens to suck the fun right out of this stage.
We turned to local experts for their professional opinions, and also informally polled local parents of teenagers through social media for their input on the lessons learned first-hand. Here is their input on some questions that keep parents pondering, scratching our chins and furrowing our brows, wondering:
When is my child the right age:
…to get contacts?
The parents we polled agree that kids should have at least a few years of experience with wearing and caring for glasses before thinking about the responsibility of contact lenses.
Dr. Raquel Strange of Sight To See Vision Associates in Edmond recommends contacts for kids ages eight and up, especially the single-use disposable variety. Soft lenses are also a good choice for children active in sports. Good grooming and a good sense of responsibility are key skills needed for contact lens readiness.
…for a cell phone?
Most of the parents we polled feel that once children reach the age where activities may take them away from the home during off-school hours, they should have a cell phone available to them. Some parents maintain a “family” phone, available for children to take along to activities if needed.
Devonne Carter, LCSW, agrees with the recommendation for kids to have a phone when he is at the age when he will be away from home and may need rides not on your regular schedule. “I would caution against a smart phone,” advises Carter, “Just stick to a phone with basic options.”
…to talk about the “big” issues, such as sex, drugs and suicide?
Parents of teens know that they need to be prepared with information, because kids will have questions. When kids are young, start with age-appropriate basics. “Get into age-appropriate specifics and have lots of conversations, increasing in detail, until they move out of the house,” advises Melisa W., mother of two teen boys.
“Speak to your kids about sex before age eight to protect kids from predators, get into more specifics as kids get older,” agrees Dr. Lisa Marotta, a psychologist in private practice. “Alcohol and drug use should be addressed by the time kids reach upper elementary [about age 10 or 11], and discuss suicide before high school. Remember that not talking about it won’t protect your child from it.”
The parents we surveyed understand what a big responsibility it is to care for someone else’s child, and are more inclined to have kids wait until high school to start babysitting for children outside of the home. However, when it comes to siblings, 12 is the age they recommend—providing the child shows signs of readiness and maturity.
The American Red Cross recommends age 11 to begin babysitting training classes, offered online (four hours total training, $25) or in the classroom (seven hours total training, $85) for kids to learn babysitting basics including handling emergency situations, starting a babysitting business and caring for children of various ages. Of course, the maturity and readiness of the individual child should be taken into consideration first.
…to stay home alone?
Once kids reach double-digit age, the parents we asked agree it’s a good time to introduce more responsibility and allow time at home alone, for an hour or so at a time.
Dr. Marotta agrees. “Age 10 is a good time to begin brief periods at home alone, adding time based on good behavior and correction of missteps,” she advises. “I would recommend reviewing safety issues and boundaries each time.”
…to sign up for social media?
Even if you hear the argument about how everyone at school is doing it and if your child isn’t allowed to be on the new, hot social media network they’ll be a social pariah, the parents we asked agree—you should always follow the minimum age guidelines. Unless, of course, grades, behavior or maturity level indicate that you should wait. But it’s never a good idea to introduce social networks early.
“Follow the guidelines of the software or you are really teaching your child to disrespect authority,” states Carter. “You should also have access to their passwords and monitor their accounts, and remind your kids that the friends they make online should be their friends in real life.”
…to go on a date?
The parents we polled were a little divided on this question, with parents of boys agreeing that 14 is a good age for dating and parents of girls agree that 16 is a good age for dating. However, parents of girls indicated that group dates would be okay as young as 14.
“Most often, about age 16 is when kids are responsible enough to engage in a dating relationship,” advises Donnie VanCuren, licensed marriage and family therapist. Any younger than that and a child’s maturity level may not be able to handle the situation, VanCuren advises.
…to open a checking account?
Our parent responders agree that it’s a good idea to teach children money concepts at a young age–such as the three envelope method (to save, to spend, to give) with allowance–but hold off on a checking account until kids get a job that provides an actual paycheck.
Jennifer Lown of Oklahoma Employees Credit Union agrees that children are generally ready to learn about money management when they start earning their own. “Your child’s maturity level is a big factor,” advises Lown, who also recommends linking your child’s account to yours to better monitor activity and also to check with your financial institution for age requirements.
…to get braces?
The parents we polled feel it’s best to talk to your dentist and ensure that children should be able to properly care for their teeth before considering braces. And if braces might be needed, proper oral care should be stressed or there may be a delay in treatment.
According to Dr. Adam Stepnieweski, DDS of VIP Dental in Yukon, “Kids get braces at about age 11, on average. It’s best to check first with your regular dentist for guidance—to ensure that permanent teeth are all in or close to it and that there are no signs of decay.”
…to drive alone?
Regardless of the law, parents agree that kids will have to prove their readiness to be responsible before earning this privilege.
Under the Oklahoma graduated driver license, 16 is the minimum age for driving alone. “Before allowing your child to drive alone, parents should ensure that kids have a firm grasp of the rules of the road, have logged ample time driving (about 50 hours or more) can handle emergency situations, understand safety rules and safe behavior and have signed a parent-teen driving agreement that clearly spells out your expectations,” explains Chuck Mai of the American Automobile Association.
According to the Oklahoma graduated driver license, teen drivers before the age of 18 may qualify for an unrestricted drivers license (allowing for an unrestricted number of passengers) after six months of driving experience if they have completed driver education. Without driver education, the teen needs one year of experience while holding an intermediate license while not obtaining any traffic violations. Full details can be found at www.dps.state.ok.us/dls/gdl.htm.
No matter what stage of your child’s maturity you face, parenting always has challenges. Hopefully, with a little luck, some helpful advice and a lot of communication, your child’s tween and teen years will be both challenging and fun for all.
Mari Farthing is an Oklahoma City based freelance writer whose children are just entering the tween years. Learn more at www.marifarthing.com.