Whether we are in the teen years or they are looming on the horizon, we are well aware that they are rollercoaster years. There are no pat answers, quick fixes or magic formulas to avoid the challenges, harness the hormones or handle the changes. Each family, each teenager and each scenario are quite different. I have weathered three teenagers who have come out on the other side reasonably well and have two currently in the throes and one on the brink. Although I have some experience at this point, I cannot say that the teen years are easy ones, nor beyond hope – they are just uniquely challenging. Like previous stages, this one also comes with pluses and minuses. Hormones rage and the child you once knew is replaced by a teenager who is quite different. What worked for the first ten years, does not in the next ten years. Change is needed on all fronts.

Already around the age of 12, for some a bit earlier and others maybe later, we see our children behaving differently. The calmness, industriousness, and co-operation now become intermingled with silliness, moodiness and maybe a bit of attitude. As they get older they seek greater freedom and challenge our authority over things they never used to. We can feel threatened, frustrated or bewildered by the new emerging person. Teenagers seem to withdraw more from the family into the privacy of their own room. The conversation often dwindles to grunts and groans for most boys and only seems to flourish when they want something. Feelings take over. Girls can become super touchy. Tears are shed more frequently over the slightest things. Kids look at their parents as if they were pre-historic dinosaurs and parents pull their hair out wondering what is going on.

It is hard to know what to do in these years, how to shift gears, where to begin, where to go and how to get there. There are so many factors and no easy fixes. Yet through it all, you do want your teenagers to maintain their moral integrity while growing in freedom and responsibility. Parents still have to parent. Teenagers are only adults-in-the-making. Wise parents get down to business by tapping into resources and people that will optimize their effectiveness and minimize heartache. Parents need to be available in a different way for quantity and quality of the relationship. I highly recommend two books written by James Stenson that you can order on-line: “Father: The Family Protector” and “Compass”. Both give some great tips and ideas on handling teen years. As well there is an excellent book entitled “Teenagers and Their Problems” by Gerardo Castillo that gives great criteria and insight.


Here are some of our own tips to help you along:

  • Give them some privileges to separate them from the children (like staying up later, extra snacks, watching movies with you, maybe sleeping in longer – teens do most of their growing when they sleep, even though they are nighthawks).
  • Talk to them differently. Watch what you convey by your tone and the way you address your teen. Don’t talk down to them. Speak more adult to adult.They will respect you more. Strive to be respectful, even when they are not. Don’t stoop to their level. Work at being less emotional and more rational, especially when you are reprimanding them. Basically, be calm, cool and collected. (Rant to a friend, scream in a pillow, find other ways to vent.) Mothers of teens have to work hard not to take teen comments personally. Teens can be quite disrespectful. Empower your husband to get more involved. We have found the teen years to be the dad years. My husband will take my teenager aside and say, “Mom mentioned you were very rude to her this week. I will not tolerate anyone treating my wife in that manner. Next time you do, you will answer to me, not to her.” Even my 6’4” son got that message loud and clear.
  • Don’t micromanage. Give them some slack on things that are opinionable and not morally questionable (clothing styles, music, homework, sports, jobs, haircuts, etc.). Voice your opinion but don’t insist on it. Allow them to experience difficulty, frustration, and even failure. Don’t treat them as children and over-protect them. You must work slowly and steadily towards their full freedom and full responsibility as adults at the age of 18.
  • Help your daughters develop a style in clothing. Be flexible in many things, but not immodesty. Get your husband and sons to talk to your daughter about the way clothing affects guys. Empower them to take a stand to protect your daughter’s intimacy. Explain that there are two kinds of men: predators and protectors. Both see her. What kind does she want to attract? Also, praise all the right things your daughter does regarding personal presentation. You will thereby teach her what it truly means to be feminine, attractive and elegant.
  • The demand for them. Introduce them to adult responsibilities. They so much want to be treated as adults, not children. Praise the effort and don’t be a perfectionist regarding results. Each year expect more. Our teens do their own laundry, tax returns, help in home renovations, roofing, painting of rooms, car maintenance, driveway sealing, cooking meals, driving siblings, getting to jobs, etc.
  • Have clear rules. One rule we have is that we require at least 24-hour notice about a request to go somewhere (ie. party, to someone’s house, a dance etc.) and my husband and I must be able to discuss the request before giving an answer. If they can’t wait that long, the answer is “no”. That way there is unity of authority, time to investigate and weigh the situation and better decisions made. Once the teen understands the process, he manages to organize himself to follow it. You bypass a lot of emotions, rash decisions and pressure tactics by teens. Teenagers do break rules. Again don’t treat them as children, but as adults–offer reasonable consequences and calm, rational explanations. Your job is not to let the ax fall, but to correct and keep communication open. Nothing is worth severing your relationship over. Striking the balance between being firm and cutting them some slack is important. An excellent read is “Father: the Family Protector” by James Stenson.
  • Have a heart to heart talks often, especially about important issues. Face to face usually doesn’t work effectively. Nerves rattled, emotions flair because it’s more intense when you look them eye to eye. Side by side is more successful, ie. in a car, washing a car, gardening, baking, painting a room, etc.
  • Sexuality must be discussed with your teenager. Educate yourself so you can do it naturally, positively and beautifully. Men should talk to sons and mothers to daughters. Sometimes vice versa in order to have them understand the psychology of the other sex. See Resources for Teens. State that the purpose of dating is to find a marriage partner. It is not a hobby, form of entertainment, or casual past-time. (check out www.pureloveclub.com and Tom Lickona’s articles below). Realize too that if they don’t feel loved by you, they will look for it elsewhere.
  • Don’t look scandalized by what they do, even though you may be going crazy inside. Control your reactions so that they will practice honesty more often. Be willing to forgive and forget. You may be disappointed, may be angry for a moment, but let them know you will always love them, no matter what. Help them to treasure the power of forgiveness that we can give each other, and that God can give us. Admit we all make mistakes and we can begin again. Be there for them.
  • Also be available. Teens are in a different groove and are usually not talkative. When they are, make the time, take the time. Listen, listen. Empathize. Be interested. Don’t lecture, or talk too much. Don’t cut squash their ideas or immediately criticize to show you know better. Just listen, no matter how late it might get. The key is to make the conversation when they want it.
  • Keep them short on money and don’t be too quick to hand it to them. Teens can get a job in some places at the age of 14, some at 15 but most at 16. Some work earlier through paper routes or babysitting. Once they start working, teach them more about how to handle money. Open a bank account, get them an interface card and some cheques.Teach them to save. Introduce them to bonds, Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC’s), contributing to their education fund (RESPs in Canada). Gradually have them pay for more of their things (haircuts, clothes, % of program fees etc.). Respect their desire for some frills: food, music, movies, fads. However, don’t put out a cent of your own hard-earned money on things that morally offend you. (One of our teenagers very much enjoyed reading “Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach, which motivated him to make much better use of his money).
  • Hang out together. No matter how moody teenagers can sometimes be, they deeply desire to be loved and know they are loveable. Take up new interests, hobbies and activities with them that make them feel older, special, privileged etc. Don’t necessarily do it through a paid program, but rather build your bonds by doing it together. Ideas: Take them out to breakfast for heart-to-heart talks; Weekly teen nights to stay up late, eat great munchies, play cards, board games, ping pong etc.; Start new hobbies (carpentry, painting, sewing, woodworking etc.), sports (squash, workouts at the gym, canoeing, hunting, paintballing), or interests (antique collecting, makeup artistry, photography, computer graphics, video editing etc.)
  • Open your house to their friends. Buy a ping pong table, pool table or poker set to have them occupied with fun stuff. Get some great movies that other teens have not seen for them to watch together, ie. Jeeves and Wooster British comedy series. Provide great munchies. Teens love it. Be willing to drive them and their friends to places. Not only do you get to know their friends better, you also learn what they like to talk about.
  • Tell your teens that if they are ever somewhere and become uncomfortable with a situation, they can call home and ask to be picked up immediately, no questions asked. You love them. You are there for them and they should never hesitate. That way if they are at someone’s home and alcohol, R-rated movies, drugs, promiscuity or whatever begins, they feel they can call without fear of reprimand. Honor your promise to not ask questions.
  • Provide good reads on a variety of topics (fiction, nutrition, makeup artistry, mountain biking, exercise, etc.) Maybe put a great book in the bathroom (“7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers” by Sean Covey or “Real Love” by Mary Beth Bonacci for instance). Get some great comic books that teens love (Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Dilbert, Far Side, etc.).
  • Open their ears to music (start at the library)– 50’s, rock and roll (Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis), early Jazz (Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong) MoTown (The Supremes, The Temptations), fiddle music (Rankins, Leahy), pop (Michael Buble), country, guitar, opera (Andrea Bocelli), whatever. Don’t limit them to what’s on the radio. Respect their choice of current teen music, as long as the lyrics are not morally offensive. Check labels of CD’s which will indicate the presence of sexually explicit lyrics. For as long as possible, try to stay away from iPods, MP 3 players or personal music systems since they further withdraw them from the family.Keep them engaged with others.
  • Love your kids concretely in the ways they need. Speak their love language. It is difficult to be a teenager. There are so many temptations, all kinds of peer pressure and lots of self-doubts. Affirm them constantly. Making little gestures of kindness is very important. Show affection. (An amazing read on this important topic is “Five Love Languages of Teenagers” by Gary Chapman) If they don’t personally feel loved by you, they will seek it out elsewhere; so pour it on.
  • Respect their uniqueness, especially if their temperament is different than yours. Don’t expect them to be you and do things the way you do. A great read on temperaments and how they affect parent-child relationships is “The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Laraine Bennett.
  • Show them your true self, not just the parent part. Share all the crazy, silly and stupid things you said, did and dreamt of when you were a teenager. They need to know you aren’t perfect, that you bugged the heck out of your parents and that you were rebellious in your own way. It will help lower the walls between you.
  • If possible, have them share their bedrooms with another sibling. This is so worthwhile. It keeps them honest in their private behavior. They are less inclined to be doing something immoral with someone else sharing the room. You also have more reasons to come into the room. Also, the sharing of space teaches them how to get along and keeps them strongly connected to someone in the family when they are not so connected to you. This will help you a lot. We’ve had boys at odds with each other in the same room and they survived better than expected. Don’t let them talk you out of something you know would keep them on the straight and narrow.
  • Keep their bedrooms free of personal computers, phones, and TVs. You cannot supervise what, how much and with whom they are interacting if you allow them in their room. Teenagers are very peer oriented and they naturally spend a lot of time in their rooms alone. That’s fine. Provide great books, and maybe a clock/CD player for their music. Have your entertainment systems, phones and computers in common areas (living room, family room, kitchen) so that you can see, hear, limit and know what they are up to. Make sure you have filters on your computers to decrease access to pornography, gambling, etc. Also be aware of the addictiveness of video games and internet use. Many mental health associations are being formed to deal with this new phenomena. Keep it under control and set healthy limits. In addition, wait as long as possible before you set up a personal email address for your kids and permit Facebook, MSN, etc. A world of strangers lurks on the internet. A lot of time is also sucked up unnecessarily by internet use. Side with caution when in doubt, rather than provide liberty because “everyone else does”.
  • Limit and supervise TV, movies, and magazines. Don’t allow the media to de-sensitize your teen to behaviors you would never allow in your home. Neither allows it to be your teenager’s regular point of reference. Check out the movies they want to see in the theater if they are appropriate or not. Help them understand why. The compass should be the family.
  • Schedule weekly family meetings (i.e. Sunday lunch) to discuss plans for the week, what teens want to do on days off, when they are working etc. so that you help them plan in advance, know where they will be, with whom, etc. These meetings foster regular communication. When planning family outings, take their feedback into consideration. Teenagers don’t like doing what little kids do. Be flexible to try new things.
  • Find a mentor – an older couple who have raised teenagers, a pastor, a good friend, a family counselor etc.to help you navigate these years and not blame yourselves for everything. Speak to them often, especially when greatly challenged. The people who have mentored us have helped us by-pass some disastrous situations that could have arisen if we reacted to our gut feelings.
  • Your teen needs a mentor too: maybe an excellent teacher, wise coach, a spiritual director, a trusted adult friend, and/or a favorite relative. Through friendship and example, these solid role models will provide some reference points during turbulent years.
  • Encourage them to get actively involved in school extra-curricular and try all sorts of new activities – debating teams, social outreach, improv, sports, clubs, drama, yearbook, etc. These activities help them to meet new friends, have less time to get into problems and grow as individuals.
  • Help them get to know their grandparents by spending time with them. There are so many special memories they can build. Let them learn from them and discover the torch of family honor, tradition and values that is being passed on to them.
  • Prepare them for real life. When your children venture into new territories (first exam, first job, first date, living on their own, etc.) help them to imagine how it could be, walking them through different scenarios. This helps them wrap their head around it, develop criteria and build self-confidence in pursuing the good.
  • Accompany your teenager through difficulty, but don’t protect them from experiencing it (failed tests, wrecked relationships, tough courses, difficult fellow employees etc.). You need to show them how to handle it well and be made stronger by it. Empathize. Don’t lecture. Build up. Underline their strengths. Offer hope. This supportive, non-judgmental assistance will help them see you as a friend, rather than a judge.
  • Tell your teenager how much you love them in writing, qualities you treasure, how proud you are of them, how much your praying for them. Tuck it under their pillow. Know it will be re-read and cherished many a time, especially in moments when they are down and floundering.
  • Encourage your husband to “date” your daughter and treat her the way he would want prospective boys too. They can go to a movie, concert, game, restaurant or coffee shop together. It will give her a great reference point.
  • Finally and most importantly, pray for your teenager daily. Talk to God about them. Ask for ideas, help, inspiration, strength. Know God is very close to you in all this and He will not abandon you. Have hope. God loves them more than you do. Abandon more of your problems in His hands. The teen years are challenging and it becomes a stage that brings you many times to your knees. Grow in your own faith and allow it to nourish you. Also don’t be afraid to share your faith with your teenager. It can anchor and orient them in critical moments.These are just some ideas. They are not full-proof, but they do help you navigate through some unchartered territory. All parents of teens struggle. You are not alone. No matter what happens, see it as an opportunity for a lot of growth for everyone.


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