Parenting a teen (or tween) isn’t easy.
We have certainly heard all the horror stories of defiance, disrespect and general disinterest. But, often such tales of teenage turbulence are wildly exaggerated. Teens may have a reputation for unsettling their parents and wreaking havoc on family life, but that doesn’t have to be a given. In fact, a majority of families weather the teen years without devastating, long term consequences.
I’ve been reading and researching about behavior trends and parenting skills from trusted experts (you know, people who actually observe and spend time with teens on a regular basis) to gather up all their best tips.
I’ve noticed that there are 10 tips that keep reappearing, which tells me that they’ve got some staying power.
Although not an exhaustive list, these 10 ideas can be part of your parenting strategy as your kids enter the teen years and will help you navigate these new waters. There is no magic formula that guarantees positive results. Fantastic parents can still have a child that rebels and struggles, while less than stellar parenting can produce amazing adolescents. I’m sure you can think of examples of both in your life.
Just remember that there are NO perfect parents or children, but there are tons of really great ones. Here are some ways to help bring the best out of both of you.
1. Take An Interest In Their Interests
This might seem pretty obvious, especially if you have a younger child right now. Many kids tend to start by sharing in the same interests as their parents. But as they grow and mature, kids begin to pursue their own passions, which may differ from what a parent is passionate about.My teen loves all things theater; Broadway musicals, fine arts, even Opera. These are not areas that my husband naturally gravitates towards or has a lot of knowledge about, but he has made an effort to learn more so he can engage in conversations with her about the things that she is involved with and really loves.
2. Choose Your Battles
This one applies at all stages of parenting, but it is especially important during the teen years. Let go of things that don’t have a long term impact on your child, like the cut/color of their hair, the often outlandish things they say, or even some of the questionable fashion choices they make. If you are constantly dictating what they can or can’t do on every front, you weaken your overall authority and their resepct for you. You may find your kids are afraid to come to you about things and that they start lying or being outright defiant.
A more productive strategy is to allow them more freedom on things that aren’t as important, so that when you have to say “NO” it means something to them.
3. Employ Other Adults
We all want our kids to come to us with their problems and worries, and it might be difficult to imagine encouraging them to confide in someone else. Surround your teen with other adults you trust so that when difficulties arise, there is an adult besides a parent to confide in. This can be extended family members, coaches, or even fellow parents of teens. Many times, having the option to talk something out with an adult other than mom or dad can be pretty freeing and remove the threat of overreaction that parents sometimes experience.
We let my daughter know there were three other women that we had faith in to provide sound guidance) she could always go to if she didn’t want to come to us with questions or issues. Often, another source giving the same counsel you might is more impactful because they’re not the parent. Definitely a better solution than soliciting advice from her peers.
4. Emphasize The Importance of The Little Things
Teach your kids to be observant of everyone’s behavior. A boy isn’t respectful to his mom, he won’t be respectful to your daughter. A girl who is constantly sarcastic or demeaning to her dad will act that way to your son. Let your teens know that you’re watching their (and their peers) behavior with supervision to determine how much time they’ll have without supervision. Knowing that a parent can trust a teen with small things, like keeping up with household chores or schoolwork, equals trust in bigger things, like borrowing the car or setting a curfew time.
Trust is difficult to build but easy to destroy, a good point for them to understand from the beginning.
5. Be Specific When Setting Boundaries
If your child is going to a movie with friends, be crystal clear in your expectations: that they’re viewing the agreed upon showing and then being picked up 90 minutes later at the agreed upon restaurant. Letting them out of the car and saying, “See ya’ at 10pm” is open to a variety of interpretations about what your expectations are versus what they heard. When the boundaries are definite, there isn’t room for teen interpretation of schedules, like “There weren’t any good seats left at that showing so we just walked around and then we weren’t hungry so we went to Starbucks and hung out instead of the movie and dinner we said we’d do”.
As a parent, you have a right to know where your teens are, having them honor their word in small things, once again, leads to bigger things.
6. Let Them FAIL!
This one seems especially difficult for modern parents. Forgotten term papers, misplaced items, or missed deadlines are things all kids need to experience during these years. When parents constantly rescue their teens from the natural consequences of life they’re actually harming their child’s development. Learning to deal with failure, disappointment, and coping skills create resilience, responsibility, and adaptability. By removing obstacles or covering irresponsible behavior, parents unintentionally communicate that their teen isn’t capable of responsibility and needs an adult to straighten kinks out in a given situation.
Think about your own life, the lessons that stuck with you the most are the ones that you learned via experience, so let your teens feel the sting of failure.
7. Show Grace In Unexpected Situations
Don’t confuse this one with the “rescue” we talked about earlier. Showing grace isn’t something that appears in every situation with your teen; negative consequences are part of life and enforcing them helps teach appropriate behavior. Grace is giving a pardon even though an undesirable outcome is warranted. If your daughter has been responsible about unloading the dishwasher but forgets that day, instead of doling out the usual consequence(like no TV that evening), offer grace instead. If she frequently forgets, it’s not a place to offer grace, because she hasn’t shown responsibility in that area.
Everyone makes mistakes, perfection is not the goal, and this is one way to communicate that.
8. Never Demean Your Teen
Talking down to and belittling anyone isn’t appropriate behavior. If that is what you’re modeling, there’s a pretty good assumption that’s what you’re going to experience in your teen relationships. Lording authority, humiliating in public or private, and overusing sarcasm can all harm an adolescent’s psyche and destroy the trust placed in an adult.
Telling a kid they’re a miserable failure isn’t motivation for behavior change but definitely fertile grounds for rebellion.
9. If At All Possible, BE THERE!
They may act like they don’t care if you come to their games, performances, or award ceremonies but it does matter. Just because they’ve gotten taller doesn’t mean their need for support has grown smaller. You easily dismiss a lot of their crazy comments, so throw this in that category as well. Your presence matters, regardless of what they may say.
Stay involved, show interest, participate in their lives.
10. Don’t Give Up On Them
There will be rough patches, times that you’re ready to throw in the towel and pretty much wish that college would come sooner so they’d get the heck out of your house. BUT, take a breath. Remember those newborn days with the nonstop crying and no sleep? You were overwhelmed and exhausted and felt like quitting, but you hung in there. Find that place of courage again and keep going. Hope, believe, and continue to do the right thing, no one on this earth loves your child as much as you do and your teen need to know you’ll always be there.
You can’t abolish the consequences of their actions but you can walk through those difficulties alongside them.