For some reason many parents dread the teenage years. I’ve never really understood it. For the most, I’ve always enjoyed having and being around teenagers. They’re lots of fun, actually. Well, every teen except my stepdaughter, but she was already a wreck when I got her.
I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for at least 75% of my white and grey hairs.
Like with many situations, the type of teenager you have is often dependent on earlier events. If you’re a helicopter parent, fasten your seatbelt because you’ve earned yourself one helluva ride.
Here are some of the things that can make a huge difference in your survival as a parent of a teen.
A lot of families don’t have honest conversations and leave too many topics for the child to either learn on their own or from other questionable sources. I’ve also seen parents shut children down when they want to discuss something. I’m not talking about when a kid interrupts a current conversation.
When your kiddo wants to talk to you about something they’re interested in, you need to listen. Even if it bores you out of your mind or you feel like you’re trying to understand Chinese. Tigger loves playing Minecraft games and Roblox, and he often wants to tell me all about it. I have no clue what he’s talking about 98% of the time.
Often these conversations sound something like: I had to feed my goats bacon because Montezuma was coming, and fire doesn’t bother him.
And he loves to show me these videos he watches on YouTube that he thinks are so stinking hilarious he can’t even speak as he tries to describe them to me. I watch the video and am left feeling like the dumbest person in the room. “Umm, that was . . . different” is about the extent of how I can respond.
But you need to listen. When children get the message that you don’t want to hear what they have to say, then when it comes time for bigger conversations they won’t have them with you.
Sometimes they get a bit hot-headed. Do you make good decisions when you’re angry? Chances are the answer is no. So having a discussion with them when they’re in this mood is counterproductive. Stop the chatter and wait until cool heads have returned so you can have a calm conversation.
Because we have no taboo topics in our home, he comes to me with all kinds of questions. Sometimes I’m not so comfortable with those questions, but I always engage in the conversation with him. This has worked well for me with other kids I’ve raised or helped raise, too.
Talk with your children! About everything.
If a child asks a question about a sensitive topic, they’re ready to hear about it. Obviously, we have to gauge the message for the child’s maturity level, but “Let’s talk about that when you’re older” is one of the worst answers.
I have a blast talking with teens. I love hearing their insights. Tigger and I have had great conversations over the years, and the older and more mature he gets the more interesting those chats are. And it usually happens then when I’m wondering if I’ve done enough, have given him enough of a foundation and so on. He tells me or says something that lets me know he’s just fine really.
Tigger will be the first one to say that my parenting style is one of mutual respect. If he’s snarky with me or raises his voice at me, I can simply say “I’m not speaking to you like that, so I don’t deserve to be spoken to that way.” He will instantly tone it down.
Rather than treat him like property, I treat him like a person, which he is. I don’t call him names, I apologize when I’m wrong (which happens more than I like), and I speak to him respectfully. Most of the time. (Hey, I’m not perfect either!)
If we don’t raise our children in a respectful manner, how can we expect them to know how to do the same with others? As parents, we have to model the behavior we want. And as much as we may want to believe that simply being a parent somehow merits instant respect, it’s something that has to be earned.
Individuality and Independence
This is a huge one. During my many years of working with teens, I rarely have had “challenges for authority.” People often see the word “teenager,” and their first thought is “Rebellious!” Adolescents are wired to begin stretching their wings to leave the nest. If you haven’t given your child the space to be an individual before now, well you’re going to have fun.
And by fun I mean: “Sucks to be you!”
I encourage my children to be individuals. I don’t put my expectations of who I want them to be onto them. I don’t force them into activities. I may make suggestions, and I may strongly encourage them to just try something out, but in the end they need to be themselves. They also need to be given free rein to discover who and what that is.
Giving kids the space to find out who they are, to explore, to make mistakes, etc., is critical for them. I’m always amazed when parents express frustration that their 19-year-old “still hasn’t grown up.” Well, often those same parents never let their child have enough of a voice in decision making to have learned anything. Now all of a sudden they’re legally an adult and for the first time are making decisions. DUMB MOVE!
Childhood is the perfect time to let them learn from their mistakes while those errors are still relatively minor. Giving children the opportunity to make lots of decisions, and to deal with consequences, is vital for helping them learn how to make good, balanced decisions when they’re older.
My teens haven’t really struggled with me because I’ve maintained space for them to be independent from early on. Yeah, it’s often pretty scary as a parent. Unfortunately, we know enough to know all the things that could possibly go wrong. But there is a lot that could go right, too.
Most of us made mistakes as we were growing up. More importantly, hopefully we learned from them. I can tell you how to do something, but chances are you’ll learn much more if you get to do it.
Teens are sexual beings, get over it. And for the love of all that is good speak to your kids about sex! As I’ve worked with various youth groups over the years, I’ve been asked some rather interesting questions. When I inquire, 100% of the time those kids tell me their parents don’t talk to them about sex. They may get some info during sex ed at school, but trust me it isn’t enough.
Covering your eyes and ears won’t help your child. Sure, it isn’t always comfortable having some of those discussions, but if we don’t educate our kids, they’re going to find out probably the wrong thing somewhere else.
I’m not saying a parent should response to a sexual question like “Oh sure, honey. Your dad did that to me last night, in fact.” But answer the question honestly, and do your best acting performance to pretend you aren’t skeeved out by the conversation.
Car rides are some of the best opportunities for deep conversations with your child. They tend to open up much more easily. And try not to crash when your kid asks “How do girls masturbate?”
Thankfully we were in a relatively empty parking lot when I got that question from one child.
I instill a sense of privacy in my children as early on as I can. When a door is closed, you knock and wait for a response before entering. This is what I expect from my kiddo, and I give him the same respect. I’ve heard from too many parents who have been traumatized by walking into their child’s room unannounced. It’s their own fault!
There’s also a reason my boys starting doing their own laundry when they’re around 10-11. Two words: crunchy socks. Yeah, no thanks.
Most importantly, remember: It isn’t personal!
I know so many parents who get so upset that their teens don’t want to spend time with them. Well, when they’re in school all day, have sports or after-school activities, homework, possibly a job as well, of course they want to spend their free time with their friends! They get you whenever they want.
That may sound cold, but it’s how it is. A teenager’s world revolves around their peers and that’s normal. Remember, these are the years that they are preparing for when it is time to leave home. It isn’t that they don’t love you, don’t like you, etc. They are hard wired to focus more on their life outside their home and parents. That’s their job.
There are ways to maximize time with your teens. A great one is to have family dinners. Ever since Tigger first moved in with me, we made it a point to have dinner at the table when we’re home. We also have a “no electronic devices” rule. If my phone rings (and I’m not on call for work), I don’t answer it. The TV is shut off as well. I’ve done this with most of the children I’ve cared for, and it’s huge.
You know you have something special when they have a friend over for dinner and the kid is stunned that you *gasp* talk as a family. “Like actual conversation and stuff.”
Even though we spend most of our day and night together, on the road we have maintained the no electronics rule during dinner. Dinner time is family time. Once in a blue moon I have let him stay on the computer while he’s eating dinner because he’s skyping with a friend who he hasn’t been able to connect with for a long time, but it’s a rare exception. And he usually hasn’t asked for the exception to be made.
We’ve even discussed that I know once we have a base and he’s older there will come a time when he will want to spend more time with his friends than with me. I let him know that’s okay and that it’s normal. “Just carve out some time for me occasionally, okay?” No worries.
Try not to let the teenager years freak you out. Yeah, it’s hard to see them growing up, changing, and pulling away more, but that’s their job. And you’ve made an impression on their heart, you’ve given them something powerful.
Does the idea of parenting teenagers freak you out?