I never wanted to have teens. Children were negotiable, but teens were out of the question.
The danger with having children is that they tend to grow rapidly. They are cute babies, then adorable toddlers, then big enough to do a couple chores, then BAM! You have a teen.
It’s scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Teens get a bad rap because they stink. And they’re awkward. And they tend to argue. And they like to push the limits. And they make costly mistakes. And they stink.
Have I mentioned the smell?
So I never wanted teens of my own. But that didn’t work out so well for me. I am now the proud mother of THREE teens with another one breathing down their necks. And here’s the shocker…
I absolutely love spending time with my teenagers.
And other than the occasional eye-roll at my corny jokes and groan at my insistence they clean the bedrooms, they do a fairly good job of pretending to enjoy me, too.
But it isn’t easy. Parenting teens is nearly as exhausting as those sleep-deprived infant months and just as hair-raising as the unpredictable toddler years. There’s more pressure, too, as they hurl themselves rapidly toward adulthood while we scramble to prepare them in time.
The key to survival is to stay on the same team. If we maintain a loving, trusting relationship, we can counsel, guide, and even protect our teens during these foundational years.
So, how are we going to do that? I’m not sure I have all the answers, and I will likely have several opportunities to learn more in the coming years. But here are my five priorities that have helped me maintain open communication and civil discourse with my teens.
How to Stay On Your Teen’s Team
1. Demonstrate you believe in him.
You know how insecure we are as mothers (hey, even as women! Do these red pants make me look fat?). Now, dial that up a million percent and add acne. How much fun does that sound?
Our teens need to hear how much we believe in them, how smart and talented and good they are, that they do, indeed, have the tools to succeed. They need to be reminded where their strengths lie, what makes them unique, and why their opinion matters. They need to be rewarded for their wins and praised for their accomplishments.
How good does it feel when someone reminds you that you matter? How much more does your teen need to be told that he is important, that he is headed in the right direction?
2. Give him responsibility with privileges.
Teens, like Thomas the Tank Engine, want to think of themselves as really useful. They never aspire to simply take up space and let off fumes. They want to be needed, to be successful, to be important.
That means work. And this is the part they don’t really want, but it’s integral to their success. For when teens begin working in and out of the home, they begin to realize that what they do counts, that they contribute to communities and causes larger than themselves.
So privileges and responsibilities are ever inseparable. They can do more, enjoy more, make more money, go more places in direct correlation to how well they manage their responsibilities. Work hard=make more money. Finish chores well=spend more time with friends.
3. Listen carefully to what he says.
Talking with teens isn’t always easy. They can be argumentative, sensitive, and inattentive. Just like their mothers. But behind all those frustrating exchanges hides a growing urgency to be heard. Really heard. They want to know we understand and appreciate their perspective.
This takes careful listening. And a little, “I think you’re trying to tell me . . .” and “Do you mean that . . .” and even, “I understand you want . . .” Because we all need to be understood, and understanding takes time. And a lot of patience.
4. Consider his opinion carefully.
Teens come up with some strange ideas. And sometimes those strange ideas can feel scary. “Is he seriously considering THAT?!” I’ve clutched my necklace and run for fresh air several times. You just never know if this is, indeed, the end of sanity.
But back to #3 above, our teen just needs to know we are listening and that we will hear him out. If we patiently and lovingly allow him to test his ideas — verbally, at the very least — we give him space to learn and grow. Isn’t that better to do while he has the parental safety net, after all?
5. Show him some respect.
Do you remember how frustrating it was when you were nearly an adult but felt like your parents treated you as a child? Remember that stressful urge to scream, “I’m almost an ADULT! Give me a BREAK!”? It became nearly impossible not to see every “no” as a challenge to our personhood, as an attempt to push us back into preschool, even if that was not the case.
When we affirm our support, love, and even respect for the young adults our teens are and the amazing people they are becoming, they no longer have to fight for recognition. If they know we already value them and their ideas, they can relax and learn a little more.
So if you are having a rough patch with your teen today, I raise my coffee mug and send you a wink and a hug over the interwebs today. I know it’s tough and scary and loud and stressful. My best advice is to find a calm moment to give him a hug and a quick, “I love you, and I believe in you.” Then keep praying that he will learn from his mistakes quickly with the least pain possible. Ha!
Give me some advice. How do you keep a strong relationship with YOUR teen?
I’d love to keep in touch!
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