When Tsh approached me to write about teens in her Seasons of Parenting series,
• It was because my three teens are perfect.
• It was because she knows I’m a parenting expert.
• I twirled a little happy dance, thrilled for an opportunity to encourage you and share a few thoughts in a much LARGER space than my wee little corner of the Internets.
I kid! I kid! Clearly the above is the old game of “a truth and two lies.” No, my 13-, 16-, and 18-year-olds aren’t perfect; nor do I claim to know everything about parenting. But my children are turning into delightful human beings, and isn’t that qualification enough for sharing my best teen parenting tips with you?
Regardless of your child’s current age–older or younger–most of these suggestions can be incorporated into your parenting style now.
1. Give them permission to speak freely.
We’ve cultivated an environment where our children can say anything as long as they do so respectfully. They can disagree with our decisions, try to persuade us to change our minds, and ask questions sometimes we’d rather not answer.
You’ll diffuse their frustration from not having a “voice,” encourage the skills of debate, respectful confrontation and conversation, and model the worthy character trait of reasonableness.
2. Make your home a haven.
Be intentional about family times, even as your teens grow older and more active outside the home… Especially now. Do whatever you have to do to eat dinner together at least a few times each week — it’s worth your effort.
Your children need you to care about the things that matter to them, so take time to get to know and engage their friends. Have plenty of inexpensive snacks on hand so when they have company, you’re ready (I stock up on “buy one, get one” sales).
Your kids will want to spend more time at home when it’s a welcome gathering spot; so will their friends. It’s better to be “inconvenienced” by playing host to a pack of hungry teenagers than wondering where they are at night.
3. Teach and talk consequences.
Suffering the consequences of their poor decisions is one of your child’s greatest life-lessons. Recently my daughter failed to sign up by the deadline for her youth group trip to Six Flags. Church van seats filled up quickly so latecomers were to arrange their own transportation. My daughter assumed we’d let her make the two-hour drive to Atlanta, so she purchased a ticket.
She was not happy when we informed her she was not allowed to drive, and to go, she’d have to find a ride with an adult. I debated driving a few late signer-uppers myself… until it hit me that was totally bailing them out! Their failure to respect the deadline and make plans in advance was not my problem. She ended up eating the price of the ticket herself…but not before learning an important lesson.
A victim mentality is unattractive and unproductive; children who learn that their choices have natural consequences are trained to make better decisions.
Photo by Izyan Yob
4. Don’t you dare shy away from discussing sex and marriage!
A lot of parents meet the minimum requirement of The Talk. Don’t stop there – please don’t let it be a one-time lecture; make it an ongoing conversation. Even if you’re cringing on the inside, maintain a casual posture.
Remind your children on occasion that: a) You know more than they do, b) You know more than their friends, c) You’ll tell them the truth, and d) You have the benefit of experience. Years after we had those initial talks, I’d continue to throw out topics that turned their faces red — but later, my kids have returned to me to ask specific questions.
You be the one to teach them correct, slang and even offensive words for their body. You inform their thinking about the beauty and significance of sex in marriage as designed by God. You be honest if you made choices you regret. You don’t have to be specific in some of those instances, and of course, consider your child’s maturity level.
They know more than you think they do, by the way.
From their middle-school years on, we’ve challenged our children to listen to us as they grow older regarding their choice for a mate. In the event we had strong reservations about whom they were dating, our hope is that this idea is so ingrained in their thinking, they’ll trust and believe our opinion.
Your children’s view of physical intimacy and marriage will be shaped through your perspective, not their friends. Plus, they’ll have accurate information.
5. The clock is ticking, so give them TIME.
When my oldest was ten, I could’ve maimed my friend who said, “She’s already lived half the amount of time she’s going to be with you….” I’m not suggesting you cling to your teen or live vicariously through him, but remember that eventually he’ll leave home after — high school? college? — and so you need to seize days and moments while he’s still home.
Your teens may seem like they don’t need you, but they still want you. And more important, they want you to want them.
Give your teen enough uninterrupted opportunities to talk, and you’ll get a glimpse into their inner life. Some of our best conversations have taken place in our garage after a drive home from a school activity. One on one, no interruption…and I got to hear their hearts.
Photo by Dan Foy
6. Don’t take it personally.
A healthy teen becomes more independent with each year; gradually, friends become more important to them than family. This is natural, and though it might sting a little (especially if you’ve always been close to your children), it doesn’t mean they love you any less.
Anticipating this phase will prevent your feelings from being hurt, and will prepare you better when your child leaves the nest.
Look for the next 6 words of wisdom next Friday. In the meantime — what are your biggest fears about one day raising teenagers? Or if you’re right in the thick of it, too, what are your nuggets of wisdom?