How Hands-on Parenting Works

Even for hands-on parents, puberty can be a very scary–or at least unsettling–time. In his book Preparation for Adolescence, well-known child psychologist Dr. James Dobson conveys that there are two things parents need to know: (1) During puberty, the river of adolescence that teens travel down can become very rough and bumpy. That is the bad news. The good news? (2) Eventually the waters will become calm again, and puberty will end. But while these adolescents are on the river, preparation and prayer are key!

It is important for parents to understand that puberty can also be a scary time for kids. They’ll need you to paddle in the raft with them and help them get through the rapids. This sort of commitment will gobble up scads of time because hands-on parents are “time with” parents. I’m talking about driving them to breakfast on Saturday morning, treating them to a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino after church, and shooting baskets in the driveway before dinner. Stay-at-home moms have a built-in advantage in this department: cars and vans are great places to have communication-building discussions as they’re hauling children to school, soccer practice, and piano lessons.

The key is making the effort to be there for your teens. And if you feel you couldn’t put in the necessary time up to now, you’ll need to start at a slower speed. Fathers can’t decide to suddenly spend twelve hours next Saturday taking their son to IHOP for waffles, sweeping up leaves with him in the yard, catching the college football game on TV in the afternoon, and taking in a movie with him that night. Most teens can’t transition that quickly–especially if you’ve made the mistake of not investing time in your children when they were younger. Going from twelve minutes a day to twelve hours overloads the circuits.

And if you haven’t been there with your children when they were younger, they’ve undoubtedly developed other support groups and have other resources. Somewhere along the line they may have received a strong message from you that other things were more important, and so they moved on. They didn’t want to, but felt as though they had no choice. Winning them back will take time and patience, and it will involve learning how to speak their love language. Author Gary Chapman has identified five love languages of teens and says they feel loved when:

  • parents verbally affirm them;
  • parents give them affectionate touches and close hugs;
  • parents spend quality time with them;
  • parent serve them; and
  • parents give them gifts.

As you may guess, buying nice things for your teens isn’t enough, and, by itself, can be very harmful. Teens don’t need things from their parents; they need their parents–their unconditional love, their cheerleading, their advice and guidance, their steering and teaching, and, most of all, their time and prayers. As a parent, you need to love your teens by employing all five of these love languages, while also discovering your teens’ primary love language.

And while not every teen’s primary love language is having someone spend quality time with them, the fact is, every teen needs parents to spend quality time with them. It’s critical to learn, as I did, that quality time can only occur within quantity time. In his book Margin, family physician Dr. Richard Swenson explained how families are being destroyed by parents (and dads particularly) who leave no margin in their schedule for their kids. “Create margin in your life. Margin means establishing parameters that leave you energy at the end of the day, money at the end of the month, and sanity at the end of your child’s adolescence. Marginless, on the other hand, is being thirty minutes late for your son’s basketball game because you were twenty minutes late getting out of a meeting because you were ten minutes late getting back from lunch.”

Highly healthy kids depend on their relationships with their moms and dads. Loving parents who give their kids both love and time give them a greatly increased shot at becoming highly healthy. If your own parents didn’t give you this gift, you have a chance to break the cycle with your children. If your kids are grown, then perhaps you can influence the relationship your kids have with your grandkids. It’s worth the effort.

Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert.