Parenting Teens – An Uphill Sprint
I’m nervous. I have teenagers in the house and the time I spend with them seems to be going at warp speed. There are lifelong lessons yet to be taught, memories to be made, and faith to be shared. But how will I ever teach them everything they need to know, especially amid the teenage hormones, struggles for independence, and a race against the clock?
How to Communicate with Teenagers
I recently read “Grounded for Life?!” by Louise Felton Tracy, M.S., and found her experiences and humor to be the right dose of parenting insight. The subtitle of the book – Stop blowing your fuse and start communicating with your teenager – gets to the heart of the matter. As parents we need to communicate with our teenagers. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that this doesn’t mean telling them what to do and how to do it and having them listen. It sometimes means we are the ones who have some learning to do.
Tracy’s book focuses on how parents can change their own mindset so that they are more effective parents of teenagers (all kids, really). Each chapter has steps for progress in different areas of parenting – and are presented from Tracy’s own experience as a parent and counselor. As I read these chapters, I began to implement some of the lesson into my own parenting of teens (and her lessons are not always as easy as they seem).
Parents are not responsible for everything that happens to their teenagers. Teens need daily opportunities to think about problems, make decisions, and make mistakes.
This one is a tough one for me. Intellectually I know that this makes sense, but emotionally it is very difficult for me to separate myself from my children on some issues. If I know that a situation could be easier, safer, or more successful because I’ve lived enough years, it is challenging for me not to impart my wisdom. But then I have to remind myself that the key is that I lived those years. I had those experiences and I learned from them – not because they were dictated to me. For me this relinquishing of control and security comes through small steps.
- I ask myself if my child is capable of making the right choice. Having the tools and using the tools are two separate things, but I have to remind myself that as long as my kids have the tools, it is up to them to learn how and when to use them.
- I try to listen more than I talk. Usually my teens just want and need someone to bounce ideas off of as they sort it out for themselves.
- I work to define which problems are mine to tackle, which ones truly belong to my kids, and which ones will require a team effort. Sometimes I have to be willing to let there be another team member – my husband, a sibling, or even my teens’ friends. It’s not all about me.
Upgrade your opinion of your child. Avoid offering advice, solutions, generalizations, probing questions, and judgments.
Tracy gives great examples of how this has worked in her family, and it really has made a difference in mine. I’m a talker, and I know that I need to reign it in when it comes to dishing out opinions and ideas in front of my kids, or they won’t have enough space in which to create their own.
If I really want to say, “You’re going to wear that?” – I hold back, count silently to 20, and reevaluate if I really need to say anything at all. If it isn’t against the rule of what is proper, just what is kind on my eyes, I need to let it be. Now that I don’t say anything about wardrobes, my kids actually come to me and ask what I think (and then I still try to just smile and nod!).
React with humor, tolerance, and honesty.
This is one of the most important lessons for parents of teens. Not only does it help make for a calmer household, but I feel a thousand percent better about my job as Mom at the end of the day when I can look back and say that I did these things. I have 3 boys after all – humor is a must!
We joke around and laugh at ourselves, every day. I also have learned the strong importance that humor plays with boys – and teenage boys are prime examples. They use humor to interact with the world, and if we want to interact with them, we had better learn how to speak their language.
I tolerate noise, messes, teenage ideas, and crazy schedules. In return I get healthy relationships with my teens.
- Open your home to the friends of your teens – open doors are rarely a bad thing.
- Open your refrigerator to the friends of your teens – share meals not only with your kids, but with their friends (the way to a teenage boys’ heart is through his stomach!).
- Open your mind to new ideas – your teens are living in a new world and their ideas will be different from those that you had at their ages.
The teenage years are not the time to start keeping secrets. It is one of the most important times we have as parents to be honest – we are helping to prepare our kids for the real world. The truth is sometimes not easy, but our teens are on the cusp of adulthood, where the truth is powerful and empowering.
If you’re a parent of tweens or teens, consider Tracy’s book – a fast read that includes personal stories and examples throughout. If nothing else you’ll know that you’re not alone – somewhere out there are more parents who are pulling out their hair in exasperation at the same time they are grieving over the end of the era. It often feels as though our teens are growing up so quickly that we are racing uphill to keep up with them and help them to be ready for their “real lives”, but in actuality they are living their lives right now. Our kids are growing up. Time for us to let them do that. And somebody please bring me a bucket of water as I cross the finish line – this is hard work – and it is only really the beginning.