03 Oct Tips for the Teen Years
ADJUST to the new emerging adolescent. It’s not easy and takes quite a bit of time. Cut yourself some slack and your teen as well, but do be vigilant. Don’t be neglectful. Your teenager is not an adult yet. He/she may look like one, but their brain is not fully loaded yet, so continue to be very present in their lives by accompanying, supervising and guiding. Don’t be a parent who is always correcting. There will be tons of annoying stuff. Don’t take everything personally. So much is part of the stage. Some teens present few problems; others are a roller coaster ride. Take it in stride. Raising a teenager is hard work. Hang onto your good humor, optimism and confidence. Be a positive presence. Fake it till you make it. You must make the time and take the time.
ADAPT to the new parenting style needed to navigate these years. I highly recommend Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman and Teenagers and Their Problems by Gerard Castillo (out of print, but get an old copy). Realize temperaments are bound to clash. Not so easy any more, like it was with a kid going through terrible two’s. Their will and yours certainly will collide. It’s part of the stage, but don’t feed the fires. You are the adult and need to act maturely. Douse the flames with a better approach. The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennet is filled with excellent strategies on this topic. Temperaments can clash. Teens need to be accepted for who they are, but guided. They crave autonomy. They want lots of freedom, but not necessarily the responsibility you expect. Dr. Meg Meeker has two excellent reads: Strong Fathers: Strong Daughters and Strong Mothers: Strong Sons worth reading. We make a lot of mistakes with our teens because the parenting style that worked in the first 10 years, does not work in the next 10 years, especially with our extroverted children. We need to accept the stage, adjust the approach and accommodate the unforeseen.
MOM IS FUNDAMENTAL to the equation because she can read between the lines. She is intuitive and can easily sense when something is off. Don’t be too busy that your radar misses the little red flags that may pop up. You are in the front lines. Observe a lot. Take mental notes. Don’t act on reflex or you will be approaching everything like a battle. You are not enemies. You are just both in different hormonal zones. Think before you speak. Don’t react like a volcano to all the stuff teens throw your way. Let a lot of things slide off you. Develop resilience. Pray for lots of fortitude. Don’t turn everything into a huge drama. Enlist your spouse. DAD IS A CRUCIAL PLAYER in this new stage, bringing a complimentary but different approach to the scene. His active involvement makes a big difference. Empower him. Research testifies to his most important tipping factor critical role in children’s development. He needs you to cheer him on to be a major player in the teen scene. Dr. Meg Meeker’s books provide excellent statistics and advice. James Stenson’s two books Compass and Father: The Family Protector further develop Meeker’s insights. Well worth the investment. If your husband is not a reader, you read them. Underline sections and leave them in the bathroom for him to look at. Your marriage must step up. You must have stronger unity between the two of you and together approach new parenting styles. Parents need to be involved, loving, supportive and engaged. Resentment and anger must be dealt with and drained in a constructive manner. You need each other, you can’t do it on your own. Agree on the facts. Share the problems. Develop plans of action. Become better as team players, realizing you each have a different approach that is valid. Love your teen up. Hug them, give them high fives. Especially treat your daughter like the jewel she is. Take her out for breakfast, treat her like a lady, lover her deeply. If her love tank is full, she will better resist sexual promiscuity. Dad is key. Don’t lecture him; cheer him on to be all that he can be, even though he’s not perfect.
Try to BE AHEAD OF THE GAME, talking about the teen scene before they are knee deep in it: social media, friendships, skipping school, cheating, dating, parties, drinking, sex, drugs etc. Don’t let them be naive. Protect their integrity. Have reasonable boundaries. Few rules. Have capsules of conversation, nuggets of wisdom, stuff to laugh about, things to share. Care enough to bring these topics up often. Teens don’t like being lectured. They don’t appreciate face-to-face time when they are being told these things. Opt for side-by-side discussions while doing dishes, washing the car, walking the dog, playing ping pong, or driving somewhere. Reveal appropriate aspects of your own teen years. Teens need to see you were not perfect, had fun, hung out with friends and tried new things. They need to know you don’t ask them to be perfect. Love them up, more than ever. This can be hard to do when teens feel like prickly porcupines. Learn how. tretch yourself. Love is a decision. It is not feelings. Become the friends of your children, not just the authority figure. Make amazing snacks to help them be willing to chitchat. Show interest in their interests. Don’t expect them to be talkative when you want. Be willing to give them time when they want it, no matter what time it is, even if it cuts into your sleep. They need to see you as someone willing to share in their joys and sorrows, their fears and their dreams. Make sure you give them healthy doses of affirmation and appreciation. Even though you could list endless complaints, don’t. You want to pull them towards you, not drive them away. Their feelings run deep right now, so keep the communication flowing. Build bridges. Consider writing them a letter once a year to tell them why you love them and the confidence you have in them.The process of writing helps you to mine the gold that’s hidden in the mountain of dirt. Do it together as spouses and have you both sign it. Teens so need you to cheer them on and a letter can be re-read so many times. It’s a permanent drop of positive into the teenage storm.
Help your teens to DEVELOP CONFIDENCE in themselves. Steer them towards new extra-curriculars that were not previously available in school – drama, band, sports, clubs, volunteer work, etc. Put them in front of amazing coaches and great role models. Affirm them in their efforts. Don’t focus on their mistakes. Their success is achieving their own goals, not yours. Don’t live your life through them. Encourage them to get a job, learn a new hobby, develop skills. Challenge them. Bring them into manhood and womanhood by stretching their talents. Teach them how to paint their bedroom whatever color they want. Allow them to decorate it differently. My son collected lost hubcaps and mounted them on all four walls, like armor. Another painted his room Home Depot orange. Loosen up on these things that are just opinion, not moral matter. Let them seal your driveway, cut down a tree, roof a house, whatever. Show confidence in working with them and expand their experiences. Introduce them to your adult friends who work in areas that your teen is interested in. Pique their curiosity, arouse their career interests, give them healthy direction. All these avenues broaden horizons, absorb time and minimize unhealthy influences.
It is normal and natural that teenagers test their limits, want excitement, and desire thrill. They don’t want to be treated as a child, or do things with younger children all the time. They want to enter that adult world and feel capable and competent, as they physically morph into young adults. However their brains are not there yet. The most important part only matures in their mid 20’s. Their abilities of judging, weighing, prioritizing and making sound judgments are not fully developed. A 16 year old is like a terrible two’s times eight in an almost adult body. However, don’t treat them like a child. Change your ways until you see you’re being effective. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. Draw them in, don’t push them away. Give them the excitement, thrill and fun they desire. Yes you. Find ways. Take them skiing, mountain biking, sailing, zip lining, paint-balling, to live theater, camping, canoeing, hiking, rock climbing, whatever. Teach them sewing, carpentry, gourmet cooking, auto mechanics, house wiring. Expand their interests with your adult world. Invite them in. Loosen up and enjoy them, experience them. Let them be a crazy teen in a healthy way. Spice up their life, with you in it. Or take them and their friends on this adventure. Facilitate lots of amazing times that are healthy, awesome and morally upright. You have the capacity to do so much good. Mine it for all it’s worth.
HAVE PARTIES at your home. Have your teen invite friends over on a snow day, or non-school day. Invest in a ping pong table, some great DVDs and super music. Feed them great food, especially homemade. Set the list of who’s invited, what food they would enjoy, some great movies, card games, or activities, a start time and an end time. No surprise show ups. All in common areas and supervised. Introduce yourself to the kids. Maybe enjoy a family supper together. Connect with them, even if just a little. You will be doing yourself and them a favor. So many kids have never experienced much face time, fun time and formative time with their own parents. Let them gravitate to you. The more you get to know them, the more you’ll know if you’d want your kids to go to their house. Meet their parents. Get to know them too. Keep your eyes open. Share lots of time with your kids, all kinds of conversations. Learn to have a poker face when they share things that internally upset you. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be quick to judge. Seek advice from older parents. Choose the right moment and the right words to convey your love for them and your concerns in a private one on one adult way. Talk to them like adults and you will go further. Don’t talk down to them or shut them down by laying down the law. Respect them so they can respect you. Remember what it was like to be a teenager and try to meet them in the middle somewhere.
At some point your kids will have a party they will want to go to. It should never be a spontaneous request for that evening. Teach your kids to give you advance notice. The younger they are, the more the notice. For our tweens, we want info at our family meeting Sunday evening. For our older teens, at least 24 hours, but preferably 48 hrs. Consult your spouse and come back with a unified answer on the request, based on sufficient information: date, time, place, with who, doing what, supervision, phone number, address, cell phone etc. Do not hesitate to call parents to confirm the invitation and discuss the logistics. Don’t care what others think. This is your son/daughter and their integrity is at stake. Be bold. Dare to be different in checking things out. All because you love and deeply care. Stand your ground with charity and confidence. Your kids are worth it.