My twin eighth-grade daughters sit at my kitchen counter. Their dinner is off to the side, and they reach over every few minutes to grab a bite of their taco or spoon some rice into their mouths. Books, papers and electronic devices cover every additional open space and you can feel the tension in the air.
This is what 7:30 pm looks like in our house most nights.
On this night, my daughters just finished a cross country meet – a sport they both love – about 90 minutes earlier. After completing the race, instead of excitedly talking about hitting their personal best times, both said, “Ugh, I have so much homework.”
And it wasn’t THAT much. But it was a math worksheet and conjugating Spanish verbs and finishing notecards for science and reviewing vocabulary for Language Arts and studying for a Social Studies test.
That was after getting to school early for orchestra and going to a study session at lunch.
It all just seems so much for those little shoulders to bear.
There can be a lot of stress and pressure for today’s teens.
Most nights, someone in our house normally loses it. It could be one of my three girls or me or all of us. I’m constantly clucking orders and someone is yelling for a computer and the dog is barking and a mess builds up that makes my kitchen seem more like a junkyard.
But knowing how tired we all were on this night, I tried to handle our routine a little differently. I just tried to make their lives a little easier.
Sometimes knowing how to support your teen looks different than it did when they were younger.
I made their lunches and put away their dinner dishes, which is usually their responsibility. I started a load of laundry and threw in their practice clothes. I went and found computer chargers and sharpened pencils and looked up a geometry equation on YouTube (thanks Khan Academy.)
There were a thousand other things I wanted to get done.
I needed to return some emails and finish a work project. I had clothes to put away and a dog to walk. I desperately wanted to check my texts. But I left my phone and my computer upstairs where I wouldn’t be tempted to check every few minutes or after every ding.
And instead, I simply just stayed in the room with my kids. I puttered quietly in the kitchen and merely remained accessible. I tried to remain calm when the emotions erupted and gave a hug when the tears sprung and offered a little encouragement and understanding when one wanted to quit studying.
Because sometimes that’s all they need—their mom. Just to have their mom there, letting them know that they are okay. She has their back.
Sometimes I think that we put way too much pressure on our kids, especially during the teen years. And sometimes, I wonder if they could handle it better if we just stayed present with them when they need us the most—which might not be when we think.
I don’t think it’s always that we expect so much of our kids.
It’s that we don’t know how to support our teens in the right ways.
We interfere instead of assist.
We enable instead of teach.
We do for them, instead of showing them how or pitch in when needed.
We tell them what to do instead of talking with them to figure out solutions.
Here are 3 tips for being available to your teens in helpful, supportive ways, without stifling their independence:
1. Actively listen to them and show interest in their lives—even the small moments.
An article entitled “Teens Need Parents as Much as Young Children Do” published on Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension website offers some ways parents can support their teens, including just being there and actively listening. “Be available. Being physically present isn’t enough. Let your children know you are willing to listen, are interested in what’s going on in their lives and want to be helpful when needed.” Even if some topics of interest to them are boring or silly to you, they might be the most important thing in your child’s life right now, so make sure to validate that.
The article also adds that as parents, we shouldn’t just be “available” but also “companionable” in spending time with them. That means that yes, although our teens are busy and not home as much as they were in younger years, that we can still “seize opportunities to participate with teens in activities they enjoy. It can be as simple as watching a favorite TV show together, going to the movies, following a sports team, cooking a favorite recipe, or going to the auto show.”
2. Offer help when they are overwhelmed, just as you appreciate when someone takes something off your plate as well.
Kids today are busier than ever. When I was a teen, I got near-straight As, played field hockey, worked part-time at Walgreens, babysit various local families, and still had time for a social life. Today’s teen faces more rigorous coursework (because the competition to get into college is fiercer than ever) and sports are far more competitive, intense, and require greater commitment than they did years ago.
For these reasons, among others, adolescence today is busier and more stressful than it was during previous generations. As parents, that means we can (and should) occasionally show some empathy and help our kids out if we can—toss in their laundry, bring them dinner, offer to quiz them on vocabulary, or help proofread an essay. That doesn’t mean we’re spoiling them, coddling them, or absolving them of responsibility. It means we’re saying “I see how tired you are, I love you, and I’m here to help.”
3. Don’t problem-solve for them, but rather, problem-solve WITH them without judgment.
One of our most important jobs as parents is to empower our kids to problem-solve for themselves, but they don’t usually come with a toolkit. It’s on us to teach them those skills. Ohioline, offers some tips on effective problem-solving with teens, including brainstorming ideas on paper and making sure to not judge any of your teen’s ideas or think they are silly. Also, let them drive the train, meaning asking first if you might make a suggestion that your teen hasn’t already thought of. And finally, come up with a plan together to follow through.
Your child’s teenage years will undoubtedly include many opportunities for them to make their own choices, set boundaries, and self-reflect on their own behavior—good or bad. The best we can do is ensure they’ve got a good, solid toolkit with them as they face these pivotal moments of adolescence.
Although I always try to see every race and game and concert my kids participate in, I actually think my teens need me more at home. Not in their face needling and nagging, but floating around so they can latch on when needed.
While normally a stressful night like this would have caused epic pubescent meltdowns, we got through it relatively unscathed—this time.
You just never know if you are doing this parenting thing right, but tonight, as least I feel like I didn’t make it worse.
And I’ll take that as a win.
For more advice on raising teens, we recommend Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love by Whitney Fleming, which contains 55 relatable essays about raising tweens and teens in today’s modern and chaotic world.
Parenting teens and tweens is challenging, but we’ve got more to support you during this time:
*This post contains affiliate links where we earn a small commission for sales made from our website.