It is one of life’s great challenges. First being a teenager and second being a parent of teenagers. You think you will be ready for it when it finally arrives but reality is it happens so fast. One day your child is young, adorable and listens to most of what you say. Then the next, they are emotional handfuls that take all your wisdom, skill and energy to control.
There are two ways to parent teenagers: The hard way or the slightly less hard way. Here we offer 12 tips for getting everyone through this stage alive.
1. Build a strong network of like-minded parents.
Having other parents around you who are going through or have been through these challenges is of great value. For you as a parent and for your child. If you have strong relationships with family or family friends your child may feel comfortable reaching out to these people. When they are experiencing something tough it may make the difference when they can open up to a third-party. It is also great for you as a parent to get good advise and support from someone who understands. In older cultures it was known that it takes the whole tribe or village to raise a child. I don’t think much has changed. A good tribe of adults is a major benefit in raising and being a teenager.
2. Encourage your teens passions.
Be involved in their life on their terms (with positive things). Encourage their passions. Keep them busy and occupied in an area they are excited about. Make sure they are challenged and stretched. It is so important to let them know you support the things they are excited about. Even when you don’t understand the activity. Try not to force your passions upon them. They need to make their own decisions and find activities that fill them with excitement, passion and authenticity. Knowing that they are in control of this area of their life will give them a positive experience and sense of self that can be hard to find. Being disinterested in their passion because you are not interested in that activity can have a very negative effect.
3. Be prepared to listen to them without judgement.
Hearing what they really think and are going through can be tough. It is important to receive this information and not let your emotions get away from you. It’s very possible that as you make yourself available for them, you will hear some things you didn’t expect or want to hear. The win here is that they are comfortable enough to let you into their world. Don’t let the door slam shut because you couldn’t keep your emotions in check. Remember you were a teenager once. Most of what they are doing and going through you probably experienced around the same age. Isn’t it better to guide them through these issues than to freak out and have them do it alone.
4. Find good mentors.
Having quality mentors in a teens life is of enormous value. Other teen mentors, usually a few years older, can have a very positive impact on your child’s life. Finding them and having the relationship grow can be a challenge, but incredibly valuable when your child has a positive influence speaking into their life. Places to find good mentors can be:
Church: Churches always have youth programs with youth leaders who are very passionate about raising strong teenagers. Even if you don’t believe in everything the church has to say, the great benefit of a church is the community aspect. Especially in a youth program.
Recreation clubs (Sport, dance, music, art etc): Anywhere where people are involved in creative and physical activities can be a great place to find potential mentors who are passionate about helping younger like-minded people.
School: Check with your school about what programs they have that can foster relationships with older like-minded people who have a passion for mentorship.
5. Foster a welcoming environment for them and their friends.
Open your house up as a place for your teen and their friends to hang out and be themselves. This will make your child feel accepted and comfortable bringing their world into yours. Be careful to let them act their age, as it is important for them to feel comfortable and welcome. Don’t let it get out of control but by doing this you will have a greater connection to their world.
6. Guide them through negative influences.
This can be a challenge but if done right it has a huge pay off. Rather than “forbidding” negative influences it can be wise to educate your child in the reasons why this situation is potentially harmful to them. If you can get them to make their own decision on making a better choice then that is the best case scenario. Guiding your teen to understand what the problem is and allowing them to make the right choice fills them with a sense of responsibility and control. Trying to “forbid” a teenager is hard, as the realty is, they will probably just do it anyway. Didn’t you? There is a fine line here with some issues but try to reserve your weapons of mass destruction for the big ones.
7. Learn about your teens beliefs.
Knowing what your teen believes about various subjects is very useful in understanding why they make certain decisions. Notice how your child used to take instruction well when they were young but now as they cross over into adolescence they become stong willed and more independent. It is the development of belief. From birth to around 7-9 years old our brains are in a downloading phase. Where we are taking in everything that happens around us and we begin to create programs or the foundations of our beliefs. The beliefs about who we are and how we fit into the world around us. Once we grow towards adolescence these beliefs begin to be acted upon as we take more control of our identity. This is where we can become “difficult” for those who are still trying to control us. Therefore it is a great idea to find out what your teen believes. When you know that their beliefs are different from yours then you can guide them according to what they believe rather than in a way that makes little sense to them and causes rebelion.
8. Always be building the relationship.
Be physically and mentally active in their day-to-day life. Get in their life, even when they give you nothing back. It can be frustrating to get little in return but the pay off comes when they do need you and they know your there.
9. Celebrate their wins.
Celebrate the good things in their life. Where focus goes energy flows. Build your relationship on what they do well rather than what they are not. If we are mostly focused on where they miss the mark then the relationship can be more negative than positive. Be there cheering when the good things happen and this will fill them with pride and the desire to make more of the same happen. Don’t let the troubles overshadow the good things. An emotional pay off for good achievement will fill anyone with the desire for more.
10. Grow up with them.
As they grow we need to grow. It is very important to be conscious of the need to grow up with your children. Changes happen so fast that it takes us by surprise sometimes and we can find ourselves clashing with them because they have grown up but we haven’t. Teens are not the people they used to be. They can’t be. We can minimise conflict if we become aware of the changes that have occurred and learn to build a relationship with this new person.
11. Don’t hide all of your weaknesses from them.
Putting on a show of being the invincible adult who knows everything can have a negative effect on your children. As they can grow up feeling like they are the only ones with problems and that they will never live up to your lofty standards. Letting your kids know that you are not perfect (good chance they know this by the teen years anyway) is a great way to build a closer relationship. If you hide all your weakness from them and act like your infallible, your relationship will not be as authentic as it can be. Don’t wait until you have melt downs to show your child that you are working life out one step at a time too. There is a good chance that they will have some wisdom you could benefit from as well
12. Be conscious and present.
Try not to be so caught up in your own struggles and busy life that you spend your days on subconscious auto pilot. It is very easy to fall into the same old busy routine and forget to make time for what is really important. Learn to switch off and be present with your teenager. Often it is a subtle art and sometimes you’re not going to get immediate results. Be present with your teen by being genuinely interested in their world and in the person they have become. It takes patience at persistence but is a very worthwhile skill to develop.
Hope you got some benefit out of this list. It really is all about being honest, open and authentic with your teen. When they see that you are a real person with many of the same feelings and challenges as they do, your relationship can really grow.
Blessings, Shane T