“I just can’t believe I have a teenager. I’ll need to brace myself for the drama.”
Years ago, I was having a conversation with a group of people and said something along these lamenting lines. Unbeknownst to me, my teenage daughter happened to be within earshot.
Later that evening she approached me, and in a respectful, tender, disappointed tone said, “Mom, I heard you talking tonight. Is that really what you think I’m like?”
Taken aback by her forthrightness, I immediately regretted my comments, hung my head a bit and said, “No, honey.” I tried to explain to her that this is what parents do together; they joke around about raising teenagers. She paused, disheartened, and responded with, “Well I didn’t like it, and I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed.”
I apologized and let her know that I would improve my parenting as she moved into this new teenage phase. This conversation was eye-opening and one of my best “teenage” parenting lessons. Her honesty changed my parenting and consequently changed our lives.
That change and subsequent lessons learned are worth sharing. Here are 6 strategies to think about as you navigate the teen years with your kids.
Consider your comments.
After that encounter with my daughter, I began to notice other parents complaining about their teens, often in front of their teens. I would cringe for both the kids AND the parents. And just as I had done previously, I would hear new teenage parents act like the sky was falling because their child had reached the teen years. They would laugh and embarrass their kids. It seemed to be a rite of passage to carry on like that.
I have found that the way we talk about our kids in front of others matters more than we realize.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When we make negative comments, saying things like “darn teenagers,” then our teens often live into those comments about them. They really do care about what we think – their identity is greatly shaped by our opinion of them.
More importantly, what starts out as joking around can quickly become a serious barrier. If our kids think that we don’t like the phase they are in, it will become difficult for them to trust us.
It’s very important to think before we speak and consider how our comments can affect our kids.
What we say to them will likely become their inner voice.
Think about that for a minute. You may even want to reflect upon your own parents’ words and their impact on you.
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” – Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)
Be a student of your teen.
One of the best decisions I made early on was to attend a class that was offered at church called “The Teenage Brain.” It was so enlightening. I learned that new teens’ brains develop at a rapid pace, much like they do in their toddler years.
Due to these chemical connections – these exploding synapses – teens will often be foggy and disorganized. Parents expect that their teens “should know by now” how to operate in an organized manner at home and at school, but that’s often not the case.
Many parents take a step back when, in actuality, they need to step in and provide some guidance again.
It can change your child’s whole perspective to help them understand just how much is changing in them physically. Teens find relief when we explain to them some of the ways their brain is working and that feeling “out of sorts” is normal.
Another way to be a student of your child is to know and parent based on their Love Languages. The principle of the five love languages is that people tend to respond best to only one or two of FIVE ways we can feel loved:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
When we learn how our teens feel loved, we keep a strong connection with them or even regain that connection if it’s been lost.
I could usually tell pretty quickly if I wasn’t loving my children in a way that they needed, because it would come out in their behavior and attitudes. Knowing their love languages made a huge difference.
Read blogs, books or listen to parenting podcasts. Ask for advice. Take a parenting class or join a small group that will help give you support and guidance. Consider doing some fun personality tests as a family night. Make sure to know their favorites – foods, tv shows, activities, etc. Know whether they are introverts or extroverts and parent them accordingly. The list goes on.
Do whatever it takes to learn about the very ones that God handpicked just for you. Be proactive rather than reactive. Parents who take the time to invest in this phase will see great benefits.
Allow your kids to have a healthy, proportionate voice.
Years ago, when we were having a Super Bowl party, I purchased some football décor which included a red and yellow flag. These ended up staying out for quite some time after the big game was over. Somehow my husband and I started using them in our parenting.
We joked around at first. If he said something that I felt was comically borderline bad parenting, I would throw the yellow flag. He would do the same. It was actually hilarious. Some of our best laughs resulted from those moments.
Over time though, we started to use the phrases, “I’m throwing a yellow flag” or “I’m throwing a red flag” for times when we wanted to express to each other that we disapproved of what one of us said or did and needed to have a conversation.
We strongly believe in having a united front in our parenting, so if we felt like throwing a serious red flag, we would wait for an appropriate opportunity to express it. Somehow that little phrase became one of our best parenting tools. It helped diffuse a stressful situation and clearly communicate a need.
As our kids became teens, we gave them the right to throw a yellow or red flag as well. Their voices matter to us. After all, my daughter, Olivia, taught me one of my greatest parenting lessons.
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 (NIV)
We must be humble enough to accept their perspective and allow it to influence how we parent—allow it to change us.
We are open with our kids about not having all the answers and admit that we will mess up from time to time. When we make mistakes, we’re quick to apologize. Modeling this humility and openness shows the shift in how we parent in this next phase. Meaning we cannot communicate with our teens in the same way we communicated with them when they were younger.
Some parents give their teens too little voice. “My way is the only way” or “because I said so” will push kids away and won’t get very far in building trust. Some parents give their teens too much voice allowing them to speak too freely and disrespectfully. It’s important to consider where you fall on the continuum.
If you find that your child’s voice is disproportionately expressed, move toward a better balance.
So how exactly do you get that balance?
Make sure to have check-ins.
By far, one of my favorite things to do is a check-in. Check-ins are more intentional than simply a regular conversation about how things are going. These are typically one-on-one. I’ll simply say, “It’s time for a check-in,” and we will choose where to go in the house so we can be alone.
If we put ourselves in front of our kids face-to-face, no distractions, no screens, and start off with “Tell me something good” they will usually answer.
Continue with questions like:
“What is your biggest challenge right now?”
“How is your relationship with God?”
“Is there anything you are carrying that’s weighing you down?”
For us, check-ins often occur when the kids are headed to bed. There is something about the nighttime that makes people more authentic and vulnerable. Truthfully though, the environments and times for check-ins are endless. Perhaps yours is on a walk in the neighborhood, a hike on a mountain, or out on a fishing boat. The key is offering your child undivided attention and care.
At times, check-ins are fun and lighthearted, and at other times they include more tears and tissues. Sometimes they last into the wee hours of the night.
Be intentional about using a phrase like, “check-in” because it sets a different tone with teens and makes them realize it’s different than a regular conversation. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love during this time. It’s not always easy to face this deeper communication, but it is worth it.
One thing I noticed about my kids when they were in their early teens is that they still wanted us to tuck them into bed. I remember saying, “Aren’t you too old for the bedtime routine?” I thought I was raising weirdos until I realized why they felt that way.
That time had become sacred.
When I go to say goodnight to them, I don’t bring my phone. I often sit on their bed and chill. I say goodnight and HUG them. Many parents stop hugging their teenagers thinking that it may feel awkward or uncomfortable. Actually, it is one of the best things a parent can do for their child whether the parent or teen realizes it in the moment or not.
Sharing that time with them expresses that they matter, that I see them and care about how they are doing. We need to show them that we care about the details of their lives. We need to respond to what they are saying with more than a nod or a yes or no. When we build good communication, they will be apt to listen to us when we turn a conversation into a spiritual matter.
Mark moments to create memories and to build your children up.
Many families have traditions. This takes some intentionality. Consider asking your kids what kinds of family traditions they would like. One easy one is to take the kids out to dinner on the first and last days of school. We started this tradition when the kids were little, and we all look forward to it every year.
We also take advantage of birthdays to give extra encouragement. We plan a nice dinner and go around the table sharing nice things about the birthday person. We mention their great qualities or characteristics, funny stories or memories, and something kind or thoughtful. However old that person is turning is how many things we share.
These are life-giving experiences for all involved.
If you see your teens doing something worth celebrating, mark the moment and create a memory with a trip out for ice cream or dinner. What is celebrated is duplicated. Consider the good behavior you want repeated.
On the other hand if your child is really “off” and their behavior is poor, a little outing, filled with positivity and grace, can also help create a shift in their mindset.
Leave a parenting legacy with your children.
Recently I asked my kids what they like about our parenting that they will take with them when they start families of their own. I was excited to hear that they valued open, honest conversations, not holding things in or holding grudges.
One of our rules is that if we apologize, it’s done. We do not bring it up again. When my children apologized for something a second time I would act like I didn’t know what they were talking about.
They loved it. Done. Like Jesus – sin is wiped out. If this is challenging for you, meaning you are used to using guilt trips, please rethink. Guilt is definitely not an effective parenting strategy.
Fathers, don’t make your children bitter. If you do, they will lose hope. Colossians 3:21 (NIRV)
What is your desire as a parent? Truly take time to think about your answer. For most of us we want our kids to go to God as the source of life and love, strength, value, and identity. We want them to take seriously Jesus’ words to, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NIV.
How will you parent?
Hopefully, it will be far more than just simply accepting the aging and survival of your child as a satisfactory result of your parenting. Leave a parenting legacy. Parent in such a way that they will carry on the best of who you are and live it out in their own lives and impress it upon their own children.
I hope and pray that these strategies are helpful to you. Try one or more and I bet you’ll see positive results. We want our kids to be in earshot when we say, “I really like the teenage phase!”
And we really mean it.