I used to live in a very remote part of Nevada. Regular four hours one-way trips were required for things you would find at Walmart, Costco, and Home Depot. My kids’ orthodontist was also four hours away. These long trips were great for connecting with my teenage kids. They also sometimes felt like a cage containing me and a surly adolescent. Some days we barely got out alive.
My oldest daughter and I seemed to clash whenever one of us breathed wrong. I didn’t always handle the conflicts well but I did manage to learn what mistakes to avoid when parenting a teen. Here are 5 big ones.
1. Controlling Them Instead of Empowering Them
People control when they are afraid. It’s a tool to manage fear. When teens sense parental fear through control, they either resist and rebel or they internalize and learn to distrust themselves. A better approach is to give them choices and make room for natural consequences to be their teacher.
When teens sense parental fear through control, they either resist and rebel or they internalize and learn to distrust themselves.
An example of this is their grades. I gave my teens the freedom to choose how to keep their grades at a level I knew they were capable of achieving. Those progress reports came out every six weeks. They could stay up as late as they wanted and participate in any approved activities they chose as long as the progress reports showed that they were living up to their potential. Instead of me being a daily nag and having to manage their time for them, they learned what they needed to do to maintain their freedom.
2. Assuming Everything Is OK with Them
Hormonal changes, social pressure, and the daunting reality of impending adulthood affect your teen’s mental health. It’s so important to maintain a connection during these years. Even though they can be surly, isolating, and combative, they need a connection with you. They need to know you are available to talk to and to find reassurance. Make sure to check in frequently and be genuinely interested in their world.
I would often ask them to join me on an errand just so I could have a few minutes alone to check in. Often, they would disclose something they were going through and I would have the opportunity to guide them through it.
3. Pushing Them Too Hard Toward a Goal
I remember feeling the pressure of knowing my children would soon be on their own. The clock was ticking on the time remaining to prepare them for adulthood. Kids are feeling that pressure, too. Focusing on the goal more than the journey teaches them, “I am valuable when I accomplish something. If I fail, I am nothing.”
Sometimes it’s important to blow off responsibility for a moment and go do something just for the fun of it. Little acts of fun will remind them that they are the treasure and the goal at the end of hard work is not.
4. Patronizing Their Struggles
Teenage problems are trivial to an adult perspective. But they loom large in their hearts and minds. They are experiencing multiple things for the first time. Romantic rejection can feel eternal. Being ignored by friends hits their identity. As parents, we have decades of knowledge disproving the lies we learned in our young life.
Treat their pain and fear according to their level. Acknowledge that it is painful but the pain is temporary. Remind them that they are desirable and help them discover what’s wonderful within themselves.
5. Not Being Available When They’re Talkative
One of the biggest mistakes to avoid when parenting a teen is not being available, even for the insignificant. Invariably, my kids would be the most talkative when I was in the middle of something. They would jabber away about trivial things I didn’t really care about. My ears wanted the talking to stop so I could get back to what I was doing. But those are the moments that build connection.
Being fully engaged in the inane creates a pattern of openness for the much more important teenage conversations. Listening to the nonsense conversations builds trust for crucial dialogue later. It’s like panning for gold! It takes lots of patient swirling of water and dirt to find the fine gold dust in the bottom of the pan.
What are some mistakes you or your parents made with a teenager?