“But, what should I do?” my friend asked as she told me about an issue with her teen. Her oldest is the same age as one of my youngest, which means I should have all the answers, right?
With one teen in college, three teens in high school, and Ebenezer turning 12, we’re still learning about parenting teens because every teen is different. We have basic principles to guide us, but our kids aren’t cookie-cutter versions of each other.
The variety of personalities, talents, interests, and even struggles in our children is astounding.
This means Russ and I still spend hours talking about our kids and wrestling through how to handle everything from their schoolwork, chores, how to guide their relationships, and pretty much everything else you can think of.
I recently read Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life and Boundaries with Teens: When to Say No, How to Say Yes by Cloud and Townsend. I’m late to the party on truly learning the wisdom of having good boundaries in relationships, but I’m taking it seriously. I even signed up for an 8-week class beginning next month.
At the end of the book on teens, way back in appendix B, there are two pages of wisdom, Tips for When You Don’t Know What to Do. I’d like to share their tips and add my thoughts. Thank you to Drs. Townsend and Cloud for the great list of tips, which I’ve written in bold. The additional commentary is my own.
When in doubt, try to connect with your teen | If you’ve been around the world of Connected Parenting, Trust-Based Parenting, trauma-informed parenting, or anything similar, you’re familiar with the importance of connection. We do our best to connect before we correct – or at least we try. I’m pretty good at it with most of my teens, but it’s not always easy, and with some kids, it’s very hard.
Remember that your teen is probably miserable too | It’s pretty easy to see, and if we think back to our teen years, it’s not too hard to remember. Being a teen is rough sometimes.
Keep the future in mind, even in the present crisis | We try to think ahead to what we want our relationship with our child to look like when he/she is an adult. There are days when we feel a little hopeless, but having adult kids gives us wonderful perspective on the way these teens grow up. I know I appreciated and enjoyed my parents a whole lot more once I was on my own as a young adult.
Be loving but direct.
I put these two together because I’m working on them at the same time. For whatever reason, I have a hard time saying “no” to my teens and being direct about certain things. I’m sure a therapist can tell me why – or I’ll find out in my Boundaries class. I tend to want to soften the blow, unless it’s something simple and obvious, but I’m not doing any of us a favor when I’m unclear.
Tolerate your teen’s anger | Anger, sadness, frustration – our kids have big feelings. Teens need coping strategies for their anger. For many kids it’s simple, but some kids, especially those with trauma histories may need help developing specific strategies for dealing with anger. Some of our kids are volatile and have anger big enough to trigger our own fears. If that’s the case, develop your own strategies to help you get through the worst of the storm.
Go for responsibility and freedom, not control | Keep in mind we’re moving them toward adulthood. We want to give them increased freedom as they show themselves capable of managing it. I know it’s scary and I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m trying to sort it out. A high school senior should have more responsibility and freedom than a freshman; there is a process of growth and maturity we want to encourage over four years of high school.
Be soft on preferences and style, and hard on disrespect and selfishness | In terms of preferences and style, we’ve boiled it down to basic modesty and respect for others. Every family has different standards, and try as we might to make good decisions, sometimes we have to reconsider decisions we’ve made. It’s hard, friends! As for disrespect and selfishness – honestly, we deal with it every single day with some of our kids and it’s a weary battle. But we aren’t giving up, even when I have to call Russ more often for support than I would like.
Be the grown-up; don’t get hooked into fights | Know when to say, “I hear what you are saying; I see you have strong feelings about this. We’re not going to discuss this any further right now; let’s wait until we are both calmer.” Sometimes the best thing I can do is say, “I don’t think anything good is going to come out of my mouth right now. I need to go to my room for a little while.”
If you are too tired, weak, or isolated, don’t threaten your teen with a consequence | Very good advice. It’s better to give a consequence when you can think rationally than toss one out in the heat of the moment you later have to take back e.g. “You’re grounded for six months!”
Plug into safe people who understand | I say this often, find your people, either online or in real life. Have at least one friend you can call or text who will be there for you – who understands your life and your challenges. My friend, Kathleen, has walked through the hardest days of parenting my kids with complex histories with me. Being able to call her and talk/cry or even process through a decision has helped me more than I can express.
Have a party when your teen makes a positive change | Truth be told, I’m not a big party person, but I do love to speak life to my kids and acknowledge when I see positive change. I affirm them when they respond with respect, clean up without being asked, or are especially kind to a sibling they struggle with. We’re working hard on positive changes with some of our kids and it means a lot to us when we see it happen.
Some of my teens read my blog, so I write today with respect for them and sensitivity. Being a teen is hard. Being a teen from “hard places” is extremely difficult. My teen years were very challenging for me and my parents – I would not want to live through them again and they would definitely say the same.
Of our eleven children, we’ve had nine teens and while Eby is almost 12, he looks and seems very much like a teenager. Let me tell you, I don’t feel like an expert, but I’ve been down this road a time or two.
I actually love having teens. It’s fascinating watching them figure out who they are, what their interests and passions are and what they want to develop. They begin to figure out their social groups and how they view themselves within those groups. It’s a time of tremendous growth and change.
The conversations we have with them are fascinating. When they start talking, I try to listen more than talk, ask questions without pressing, and not get more serious than they are. It’s a fine balance and the last thing I want to do is shut it down by pushing too hard or steering it in my own direction.
We learned a lot from their older siblings’ teen years, and sometimes we even ask our adult kids for advice about how to manage something with our younger kids.
They are quick to remind me that my fear looks like anger (truth), and I am fully aware that the worst parenting I’ve ever done has been parenting rooted in fear.
If I can leave you with one piece of advice from me to you about parenting teens and parenting in general, it’s this:
Don’t parent in fear – fear can look like control or anger and never leads to connection or trust.
If you’re in the trenches with teens – hold on! It gets better.
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