Parenting teens may not be the easiest row to hoe, but it’s definitely doable. I know because I’ve managed to help navigate two of my children safely (not without our share of bumps, bruises, and scrapes, but safely, nonetheless) to adulthood, and another child is smack-dab in the middle of the teen years.
Each child is an individual so you may find, as we did, that you can parent your children using the same basic methods, but still have very different results. Our oldest son, much to our surprise and dismay, made it through the teen years kickin’ and screamin’. While our second (and, so far, our third) had a much easier time with understanding that the rules and guidelines we set were for his benefit.
I’m thankful to say that our now-adult children are doing very well. The oldest (the one who bucked at all our rules and made me wonder if we were ever going to make it through his teen years) is now a dedicated police officer with a heart to serve his community who’s an absolute joy to be around and he’s also an excellent role model for others. The second is in college making straight A’s, engaged to a Godly young woman, co-owner of a successful photography business, and an active member of our church’s worship team.
I tell you those things not to brag (ok, maybe a little), but to let you know that I have a little bit of experience that allows me to offer some advice. Not “expertise” because I’m not qualified. Just advice based on a few things we’ve learned over the years.
Parent first. Friend second.
Now, I know this sounds harsh and in all honesty it was one of the hardest parenting concepts for me to swallow when my oldest began his journey into the teen years. He’d always been my “buddy.” I never in a million years imagined that I’d have to choose between the two roles. But when it comes to setting down and enforcing the rules that are for their good and for their protection, they may not like us and we HAVE to be ok with that.
Let the reins out slowly.
In other words, don’t be too quick to let them venture into new freedoms. It’s much easier (on them AND on you) to give them more freedoms if you see that they’re able to handle them than it is to take those same freedoms back if you begin noticing problems or just get that “check in your spirit” that something’s not right. Even if you’re doing it slowly, however, make sure you’re preparing them as you go! Talk to them about the news, issues, real-life concepts, etc. LISTEN to where they’re coming from! A great way to do that is getting a group of their friends together and hosting a Questionable Movie Night – it combines fun and a non-threatening platform to develop serious discussion and help foster discernment skills.
Major on the majors and minor on the minors.
Decide what’s important to your family and be willing to stay steadfast in those areas, but offer more flexibility on the lesser issues. For example, in our family the focus is on “heart issues.” We tend to say “no” more often to things such as movies and music that don’t line up with our values while insisting on church attendance (even if they don’t feel like going) and building strong moral character, but we allow more freedom with individual expression of style. That has meant that our oldest son had lots of longer curly hair and gauged ears and, at one point, his younger brother had hair that hung down to the middle of his back. Both boys had to keep their hair clean and neat, but other than that they had freedom of expression. They both outgrew those crazy looks, but the character traits and their moral compass are still going strong.
Teens don’t always open up when it’s convenient for us. It’s our job, if at all possible, to be available whenever they’re willing to share what’s on their hearts. It may be that those teens who aren’t so willing to share the in-and-outs of their life during the daylight hours will be more open to conversation during the night when all is quiet and whatever’s on their mind comes to the forefront. But be encouraged: just like those blurry-eyed nights of diaper changing and feedings didn’t last forever, neither will these. Even now, my older kids know that mama and daddy are ALWAYS available, no matter the hour, to talk. To me there’s not much that’s more precious than a 22-year-old who’ll pick up the phone and call at 5:30 in the morning to hash things out and get much-needed, fresh perspective because he knows I’m available.
Let ’em know you love ’em.
This little nugget of wisdom should probably be #1 on our list. It’s so vitally important that our kids know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that they always have a “safe place.” The world’s version of love, their friends’ level of acceptance, and the definition of what it takes to be considered worthy of approval by others are always shifting; once attained, any one of those “achievements” can be just as easily lost. Our kids have to know that our love for them isn’t based on their performance or their obedience or anything they do or don’t do. They’re not dumb, they’ll know that sometimes we don’t like what they’re doing or the choices they’re making, but they can know that we love them for who they are. Always and forever. Completely and totally.
This short little list is in no way to be considered exhaustive, but it’s a nice start.