The Teen Years Can Be The Best, Really.
When my first child was a baby I would hear people say, “Wait until the terrible twos.” At the ripe old age of three people felt the need to now warn me of the “terrible teens.” I decided not to live in fear of these stages of life. My decision was not based in my own wisdom but that of my mom and her best friend. I often heard my mom say, “I have enjoyed every stage of my children’s lives.” My mom’s best friend had children a few years older than my brother and I and would encourage my mom by saying, “The teen years are so much fun. I am having the best time with my kids.” These women defied the mindset that the mere thought of the teen years should make one cringe. My teen years were not without folly, but mostly I remember the fun. I don’t mean the fun of hanging out with friends. While that was a good time, I am speaking to the fun I had with my mom.
Growing up, my mom never fell short of her authority yet she maintained an open and enjoyable atmosphere. She learned to give plenty of grace during the teen years and not take antics seriously. When trouble did occur, she handled it and moved on with our relationship without skipping a beat. A troublesome teen was not going to ruin her relationship with her child.
So what about my dad? My dad did something for me that has impacted my parenting in the best of ways. When this ranting and rambling writer was a teen, she could go on and go with no end in sight. My dad handled this in the most unusual way. He listened. He allowed all my emotions and misguided thinking to come out without taking offense or judging. Maybe he didn’t know what to say or he had a master plan all along, but whatever reason, he allowed me to express myself to the point I corrected myself. He would nod in agreement when I made sense and look at me curiously when I didn’t. He only interjected when I was ready to hear it. You see there is a sweet spot for getting through to your teen and that is on the downward spiral of a venting session. While he never allowed me to speak disrespectfully, he didn’t take offense when I was a bit animated and sounded out of my mind. He must have known that I needed to work through that.
Now that I have my own teens, I learned how to implement my parents’ successes. Please don’t misunderstand and think I had perfect parents or that I am perfect in any way. No parent or teen is perfect and folly is a part of life. I simply learned to keep love in the foreground and trouble in the background.
Tips for Keeping a Relationship with a Teen Strong
We need to always keep present in our mind that being a teen is not easy. Give grace without taking guff.
Love their friends. Teen friendships are held together by duct tape. Take these bonds seriously and learn to love their friends. If you love their friends you are showing your teen love in return. You can show this love by asking how about her friend, giving her friend a ride, or inviting her friend over for dinner or a family night.
Don’t push for them to grow up or keep them from growing up. The goal is to teach your teen to be a productive independent adult. To reach that goal we often push them before they are ready. Then there are times when we hold them back due to our own fears. It is my policy that if one of my teens directly asks for help they get it. Now that help doesn’t mean coddling. It means working through their fear with them. It’s ok to still check for monsters under the bed when it leads to building confidence in your child.
Do the little things for big impact. My daughter knows she can ask me to give her ride, pick her up, or even pick her friend’s up. I have been the mom to take a car load of teens to the mall. I give her friends a ride whenever I can. It is one way that I can still help this fully functioning semi-adult who would love to think she no longer needs me. These rides around town make me feel like a taxi driver, but I know the significance. Through this small act, I know her friends. I once dropped some of these lovely people off at the mall to see a movie. I then picked up my younger kids to take them to see a movie that same night. When her friends saw me standing in the theater they came up to me smiling and began to talk. My daughter even invited me to see the same movie as them. Again, don’t misunderstand, I am not the world’s greatest mom. My daughter and I do not see eye to eye every day. I have to dig deep to remember these moments when things go sideways. However, it encourages me to know a relationship is forged in trust, love, and fun as opposed to troublesome moments.
Don’t take their rantings to heart. Your teen doesn’t hate you. I know you may have heard it. I know you may have cried over it. Listen to me, I promise you that your teen does not hate you. You need to learn “teen speak”. Remember when your child was a toddler and only you knew what she really wanted? Dig deep, mom, you know what some of these hurtful words really mean. Testing boundaries doesn’t end at 3 years old. Your teen needs you to listen to what they mean and not what they say. Once things simmer down, go to your teen and say, “Do you remember saying how you didn’t want me around? Do you mean that?” When your teen is calm, you will have a better chance of addressing the heart of the issue. Now, I also want to emphasize that you should not put up with disrespectful behavior. Instead of making their misguided words the focus, simply say, “I see this is significant to you. We won’t get anywhere if we argue so let’s both calm down and talk in about 10 minutes. I want to hear what you really mean and I am sure you do not mean to be so disrespectful.” You see your logic and calmness will soften your teen’s anger and provide those safe boundaries she needs. Relationships are defined by love and not by mistakes. We all make mistakes and I have yet to meet a person who wants it tattooed on their forehead.
There is a difference between me dressing fierce and trying to relive my teen years. Acknowledge that you will not always understand your teen. You don’t need to understand them, you need to be present for them. Since we were teens and we know the endgame, we tend to work from the perspective of the endgame. Sadly, our wisdom is not always appreciated. Once my daughter said, “You don’t understand.” I retorted with, “I’m the parent. I’m not supposed to understand you. I can’t even understand how it became socially acceptable to wear pajama bottoms in public.” Since she didn’t understand that either so I encouraged her with, “See we agree on some things.” Parents and teens need to meet each other halfway. Keep in mind, you don’t need to understand your teen to properly parent and for that teen to recognize your love. There are times of disconnect but need not lead to a disconnected relationship.
Don’t be afraid to get a point across in humor. Humor does not lessen the impact of a significant statement. My son asked permission for something that would not be allowed. As soon as he asked I said, “Is this a test? Are you serious?” A little humor can diffuse a potential explosion and often cause the other person to rethink what he just said. Yes, there is a line between humor and making fun of your child. Don’t do that latter. That latter is bad.
Ask for your teen’s opinion on things. Your teen needs to know you value how she sees the world. Instead of lecturing, ask what she thinks. Brace yourself for disagreeing but don’t rush to correct. Ask her why she thinks the way she does and what experiences taught her that. Get to know her like you would get to know another person.
Have fun together, share your hobbies and establish traditions. You may be surprised how much fun your teen can have playing board games, going on a hike with you, or playing out in the snow. Involve your teen in your favorite hobby. Sharing these experiences strengthens bonds while showing your child you can still teach her a thing or two. Maintain traditions and create new ones if necessary. One Christmas my son and I made breakfast together. I didn’t think much of it, but he called it a new tradition. So now we guard this tradition with full force not even allowing anyone else to even enter the kitchen. I expect this to carry on for years to come. Now, I know establishing new traditions may result is resistance. Your teen may even think you are not cool, but since when has that ever stopped you from parenting?
Love your teens and appreciate the lovely person he or she is becoming. Focus on a long lasting relationship and not the pitfalls along the way.
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