8 Tools for Parenting a Teenager
By far, teenage years are the most confusing, difficult, tearful, emotionally exhausting years. And that’s just for the parents.
I’ve been terrified of having teenagers ever since I had children. Daughters in particular- as I know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, and I was awful. Not getting into trouble with the law kind of awful, just sassy and self absorbed.
I’m only at the beginning of it as a parent. My eldest is 14. By 14 I thought my parents knew nothing, I barely spoke to them unless I had to- and when I did, it was most likely in a smart-ass tone. I count my lucky stars every single day that at least so far- my teen and pre-teens are respectful for the most part (there is still the occasional eye rolling behind my back, I choose to ignore it)- and they listen to me. They also talk to me, about school, about friends, about how they are feeling. I’m sure there is lots they keep to themselves as well, but at least the lines of communication are still open and shared.
My parenting style may not be for everyone- but here are my rules for keeping an open and honest relationship with my kids.
1) LISTEN. I listen to them when they are just talking to me- I try and hear what they aren’t saying, about boys, about friends, about life. I also LOVE it when they ask me to drive them & their friends somewhere. Once the car starts moving, it’s like I no longer exist- they discuss everything that’s going on with them…I keep quiet even when I want to chime in- and I learn so much. A drive alone with them is also a great way to have a conversation- they don’t have to look directly at you while they talk, it seems to help a little.
2) TRUST. Trust them until they give you a reason not to. Listen to your intuition, and if something doesn’t sound right- it probably isn’t. Don’t believe the worst before they have had a chance to show you it. Don’t base any assumptions on what you hear in the media, or what other parents are sharing about what their child is or isn’t doing. If you want yours to trust and respect you, you must do the same. That being said- make sure that if they break your trust, you follow through with consequences. (more about that later)
3) PICK YOUR BATTLES. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it to have slamming doors and screaming matches about cleaning their rooms, or their eye rolling when you ask them to do something.
4) TEACH FAMILY VALUES. To me, this is probably the most important one. You spend the first years of their lives instilling good values, a sense of morality, kindness and empathy. Showing the difference between what is right, what is wrong. Good choices and bad choices. And then they hit a certain age….and it’s out of your hands. You can be there to support them, and help guide them through the mishaps of teenage-hood…. and pray they come out of it relatively unscathed. No major life-altering mistakes, nothing catastrophic.
5) GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. I try to remember that in less than 4 years- my oldest will be off to university and ready to take on the world. And I will miss her terribly. In the grand scheme of things- her wanting me to drive her everywhere to be with her friends (when I want her to want to be home with me instead), or she wants money to go shopping, or she wants a new phone. Within reason of course! She really wants a horse…and THAT’S not going to happen. But what I can do is drive her twice a week for 20 minutes each way to a barn where she gets to ride and volunteer and spend hours and hours with horses in a stinky barn…because it makes her incredibly happy and she loves it. It’s an inconvenience for me, and on my vehicle…and she only sort of appreciates how much it takes for me…but someday she will get it. It doesn’t have to be now.
6) STAY CONNECTED. Even if they act like they are too old to hang out with you, or look at you sometimes like you have two heads- know that they are torn between being a grown up and being a kid. Nothing makes me happier than when I see the oldest acting like the youngest- riding scooters, playing at a playground, giggling while having a family Nerf gun fight. Sometimes when I know stuff is going on with her, but she’s not sharing, I will just go down at bedtime and lay down with her and hold her. Sometimes she talks, sometimes she just cuddles. Either way, it’s good.
7) BE A HARDASS. When it’s absolutely necessary. I have A LOT of patience. But all my kiddies know- that if they push too hard- I will snap- and then there is trouble. I can take away privileges, enforce consequences and be tough when I need to be. If they are smart- they won’t put me in the position to have to do so.
8) BE PATIENT. Infinitely so. Remember that when they do something selfish or obnoxious….they probably aren’t doing so deliberately. Teenage brains are wired to push limits, and also to make choices that aren’t necessarily the result of rational decision making. If you have ever attended BODIES- The exhibition…. take a look at the teenager brain one- it’s extraordinary how different it looks from a fully developed adult brain. Trust that you are doing enough, being enough, and that they will turn out ok. Be there for them. Remember you only hold them for such a short time. When they are making you crazy, remember that soon enough…they will be coming to you for advice about their kids.