If there’s one thing we know about teens, it’s that they can be absolutely impossible to reason with. I mean, seriously, we are just the worst when we want to be. It’s no secret that the relational dynamic between a child and parent changes drastically when that child becomes a teenager. Too often, loving parents find themselves at a complete loss as their child changes before their eyes. You watch as your oldest son, always the essence of responsibility, suddenly morphs into a reckless daredevil. You see your youngest daughter, your ceaselessly joyful baby girl, suddenly begin struggling with insecurity and self-worth.
When it comes to parenting teenagers, the biggest mistake parents make is self-doubt. Why is it that nearly everyone rocks at parenting their kids from birth to the teenage years, but after that, the great examples are harder to find? The answer is self-doubt. The same qualities that make you an amazing parent when your child is 7 make you an amazing parent when your teen turns 17. The problem is that the moment we start changing, the vast majority of parents begin scrambling to rewrite the rulebook. But guess what? I’m here to tell you that you are doing an amazing job! Don’t believe me? Here’s what you need to know:
1) We Are The Same Kids We’ve Always Been
This can be hard to believe when you’re watching your brilliant teen flunk tests left and right, because “who has time for homework?” Up until we reach our teenage years, our entire life perspective has been handed to us from you, our parents, and whatever influences you, our parents, have allowed into our lives. But now, suddenly, we find ourselves beginning to think about life for ourselves. The critical-thinking parts of our brains have developed at last, and we are starting to see things from a whole new perspective. At the same time, we are being exposed to a vast world and beginning to learn that what you taught us is not the only way of doing things. The time has come to test what we have been taught and evaluate its merit.
The important thing for parents to understand here is that we actually want you to be right. We want everything you’ve taught us to hold up under trial. But we have the reached the stage in our life where it absolutely must stand trial. If you prevent us from putting what you’ve taught us to the test, if you attempt to confine us in an ideological cage, we WILL reject your ideas, and perhaps even you (at least for a season). Does this mean you need to leave us alone and vulnerable to our own, ill-conceived devices? Not at all! So what do we need?
2) We Need You To Be The Same Parents You’ve Always Been
Kids are hardwired to crave relationship with their parents, and this is true regardless of age. We want you in our lives. We want you to be the same parents you’ve always been. I do not mean that we want you to relate to us the way you’ve always related to us. As we change from children into young men and women, the nature of our relationship will change. But you shouldn’t change. As teenagers, we are testing everything because we don’t have a clue about what is or isn’t true.
We have just developed fully functional, critical-thinking brains, and we have virtually zero real-world experience to build on. Everything is a mess in our minds, and we are desperately trying to arrange and sort through a billion ideas all the time. Our minds, behavior, emotions, personality, and even appearance become fluid and ever-changing, which is exactly why you should be a rock. We need you to be the calm in the storm, the lighthouse on our horizon that lets us know no matter how far out to sea we go, no matter how violently we are tossed in the oceans of our own understanding, you will always be there, ready to lead the way back to safety whenever we are ready to return.
Sometimes, however, it may seem like we couldn’t care less about you, like we think what you have to say is worthless. All too often, parents just stop trying, because they don’t think they are getting through to their kids. But the fact is…
I think an important thing to note is that you need to allow your children to make some of their own decisions, and realize the consequences from a much younger age than most parents allow. Little Timmy needs to realize when he’s five that natural consequences exist well before he hits the teen years. Frankly I think this results in more responsible teenagers. I by no means argue that it’s a difficult period of life to grow through, but not all teenagers are out of control rebels. Some of them are very responsible, and a lot of that is because they’ve been handling responsibility their entire lives.
That’s a great point. The goal is that strategies and lessons implemented in your child early on will remain intact when they become teenagers. And I think you are correct, if you empower your children to be responsible and allow them to think for themselves and experience consequences, this will produce fruit when they are teens.
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