I remember the first time I realized I was a mother of a teenager. My oldest girl was 14 years old, and she was complaining about a family member. As a general rule, I try my best not to yell, but that day I broke my rule. After what seemed like the hundredth time of her complaining about how this person was so much worse than she was, I snapped. I raised my voice, yelled at her and told her she was no better than them because she was doing the exact same thing she was complaining about: gossiping. An emotional verbal sparring match ensued, and I said things I regretted; she said things she regretted, and we both had to come together later to apologize.
I wish I would have learned earlier what I know now–not to meet the teenager at their emotional highs and lows. Teenagers are emotional; they know everything, and they are learning to grow up and become independent. Maneuvering the waters of the teenage years is tricky at first, but what I have learned from others wiser than me has helped my entire family be calmer, cooler, and more collected. Here are 5 tactics to use if you are wondering how to parent teens.
1. Watch What You Say:
Being mindful of what we say when we are frustrated, angry, or hurt goes a long way. Moms may have eyes in the back of their heads, but teenagers have ears everywhere, even if they pretend they didn’t hear you. Our words truly set the tone and atmosphere of our household. If we are continually complaining about our teenager, saying snide remarks about how they cleaned up, or using biting sarcasm, we are setting up our relationship with our teen to fail. Be diligent to watch what you say so your relationship can start out on the right foot every day.
2. Truth and Grace:
I am much more truth-oriented in my marriage than my husband. I have a strong sense of what needs to be done and high standards, and I’m not afraid to speak directly about my expectations, especially when they aren’t being met. My husband is graceful. He forgives easily and allows for leeway when the situation calls for it. With teenagers, both need to be strong. Strong boundaries need to remain in place, with consequences clearly understood by all. However, when sincere hearts apologize, it’s important to give them a mom’s forgiving heart and open arms. Teens desperately need both truth and grace in order to thrive and stretch their wings.
When sincere hearts apologize, it’s important to give them a mom’s forgiving heart and open arms.
3. Expect Mistakes:
Most parents want their kids and teens to be perfect but my husband has always told his kids, “I expect you to make mistakes, but when you do, make big and brave ones. That way you never forget it and we all learn from it.” Big dreams require big risks and vice versa. Remember, kids will make mistakes. Our girls aren’t perfect, but they are learning from their mistakes, some of which have been incredibly memorable for them (like the time our daughter forgot to put coolant in her car and blew the head gasket or when she put diesel in a regular-fueled car). Two good things came out of those situations: she was safe, a family member helped her purchase another car, and she will never make those mistakes again.
4. Drive Down the Middle (the one I needed to learn the most):
A dear friend of our family has said over and over to us “drive down the middle” when it comes to parenting teens. His youngest is in his late twenties and since they all survived their teens, I decided to ask him to elaborate a bit on his phrase. He told me, in essence, that teenagers are ruled by their emotional highs and lows but that as parents we don’t have to rise to meet them in their highs or sink to meet them in their lows. Drive down the middle and be constant, cool, and collected. Eventually, they will acclimate to meet you where you are and then you can communicate clearly and easily– sans crazy emotions.
5. Take Time for Play:
Another friend of the family emphasized the importance of taking the time to play. Sure, we are trying our best to raise these teens to be responsible people, to learn how to take care of themselves, to be clean, to learn the value of a dollar, etc., but if that is all they get from us, then we have missed the entire picture. We must take time to play with them – for in the play time is still where the deepest bonds take place and where we will never be far from their hearts. Family game nights, pedicures, making smores in the fire pit, surprise fake spiders – they all communicate that life isn’t so serious and is worth enjoying. Be goofy and play with your teenagers; they will thank you for it someday.
What tactics have worked for you as you parent your teens?