Teenagers! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Right?
OK, maybe it’s not quite that drastic. I’ve got two teenage boys – 17 & 19 as I write this – and they are amazing young men. I am so proud of them and confident in who they are and who they will be as adults.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. Raising teens is almost always a challenge. There are so many things going on – in their body, their minds, their emotions, and in their social lives, just to name a few.
So what’s the secret? I don’t know that there’s a secret, but here are three keys that I’ve learned as I’ve raised my boys:
1. Love them.
In the post 10 Characteristics of Highly Effective Parents we said that the effective parent expresses their love unconditionally. As teenagers, our kids need this more than ever. This challenging time for kids brings questions, insecurities and changes to their life like never before. They need to know that, no matter what, our love for them is unchanging and unconditional.
This doesn’t mean we don’t lovingly guide them. It doesn’t mean we stop disciplining them. And it doesn’t mean that we fawn over them. It simply means we love them. We are there for them regardless of decisions they make…or don’t make. And we don’t withhold our love from them in spite of attitudes, misdeeds or words that they say.
2. Learn from them.
When our children are little, we always know more than they do. As they move in to their teen years, that’s no longer the case. They know things. They have opinions. They are forming their own ideas. Based on their younger years, they are finishing up the shaping of their beliefs and values.
It’s not the time to play Mr. or Mrs. Know-It-All when you’re raising teens.
Instead, what I found is that if I took a posture of learning from my kids, of giving them space to figure things out, and of respecting the opinions they had, then I was invited to be part of their conversations. And guess what…they taught me a lot and I gained a great deal of respect for them. Do they always think like I do? Nope. Do they make the same decisions I would. Not always.
But that’s ok. By remaining part of the conversation, they listened, respected and considered my opinion far more than had I simply told them what was what.
3. Let them.
For me, this was the hard part. Essentially, we need to let our teenagers grow up and learn to be adults. That’s not easy for Mom & Dad because they are children to us. And it’s not easy for teenagers, either. Just beyond childhood, all they’ve ever known is how to be a kid. But adulthood looms, with all of it’s responsibilities, enticements and fears.
They need to walk through this on their own. Oh, sure, we’re there to help. We’ll need to bail them out from time to time. And we need to have some hard conversations along the way. But we need to let them walk down the road to adulthood. Let them make decisions on their own. Let them work their way out of tough environments. Let them be in somewhat dangerous situations (this is probably on my mind because my son has his driving test on Monday and I’ve been driving all over Colorado Springs with him for months!). Let them have their own opinions. Let them be wrong. Let them feel consequences of wrong decisions.
Of course, as I mentioned, this doesn’t mean to abandon our parenting responsibilities. There’s a fine line between letting them and abandoning them. It’s more a conscious, intentional effort to stay out of the way and let them own their lives while staying close enough to help them when needed.
One more thing I learned…
Don’t parent alone. Get help! That might mean finding others with kids about the same age as yours and striking up conversations. It might mean attending seminars and conferences. It might mean simply investing in a few books. But don’t try and figure out this parenting thing by yourself!
If you’re looking for books, here are a few I would recommend:
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Adulthood by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
Artificial Maturity by Tim Elmore
Boundaries with Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by John Townsend