Through the high school years, we as parents have to learn to let go of controlling our teens. It’s a horrible thing to see parents trying to micro manage their teenagers in a way that they micro managed their 2 year old. 2 year olds need lots of instruction, controlling, training, and watching over every move to teach and direct them what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. If you have done your job when they were young, by the time they get into high school, you can let them direct their own ship, encourage them in responsible behavior, and trust that they will make good decisions. It doesn’t always work out perfectly but this is the time for them to learn how to manage their lives and they can’t do that if you are managing every aspect of it. I love teenagers! They are lively, fun, full of life, and always coming up with interesting things. But that doesn’t mean its always a walk in the park.
Believe me, raising teenagers will take you to the depths of joy one day and to the deepest of despair other days. Teenagers can be so much fun and so much challenge. They will make you laugh and make you cry. They will make you feel like the best parent and the worst parent. There will be days you can’t wait for them to move out and days you never want them to leave
You will love some of their music and hate others of their music. My boys knew that if they were driving in the car with mom, there was to be no rap music, especially with lyrics degrading women. You will earn each gray hair and each worry line through the teenage years. But if you can learn a few key things about raising teenagers, it can be a truly fun and joyful time overall. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that I hope will be an encouragement to you.
1. Treat your teenagers with the same respect that you would extend to any other person. Give them space to talk and say what’s on their mind. I was raised in a home where you never disagreed with my father. That fear I took into adulthood and at times into my marriage where I was afraid to say what was on my mind. Our kids have to know that if they express an opinion in a respectful way, they will be heard.
2. Ignore 80% of what teens say. This might sound like a contradiction to my first point but here’s what I mean. Teenagers can be moody. The hormones are imbalanced, the stress of school weighs on them. For girls, the drama of other girls can be suffocating, all of these can make teens emote and say a lot of things. I’ve learned that the best thing is to ignore the crazy statements said in a moment of emotion, and just don’t respond. For instance, your daughter walks in from school and declares, “I’m going to Ocean City for senior skip day in May.” (she says this in March) At that moment you can start a fight with her about how there is no way on earth she’s going to Ocean City for Sr. skip day, OR you can just ignore it and realize it was probably some idea one of the girls dreamed up and once they all start talking to parents about it, there’s no way parents will allow it. So just let it fall by the way, and let it go. Or when your son says, “I’m not going to college because managers at McDonald’s make $80,000 a year!” Parents, just let those things go. Don’t feel like you need to respond to everything they say. Just ignore it. I’m not kidding, just smile and don’t say anything back. Usually by the next day, that thought is gone and you would have created a lot of tension between you for nothing. My husband Todd was great at this and he taught me a lot about it. And it really works.
3. Keep your teens heart. This starts when they are young. If you have not built a relationship with your child over the years, its going to be difficult to recapture it in the teen years. But its important to think of creative ways to be involved in their lives. Enter into their world, ask questions, seek to know them. Know what classes they are taking, which classes they like, who their friends are. Spend time with your teen. Take them to pizza, or coffee, or go shopping, or go fishing , or get a pedicure together, or play their favorite video game with them, ANYTHING to enter into their lives. Do It! Find ways to be together in a relaxed non- threatening way. It will pay off in the long run.
4. Vocational conversations. Begin in 9th and 10th grade to ask them what they might like to do as a vocation. Its not too early to begin these conversations. If there is one area the schools have dropped the ball, it’s in helping kids think through vocation. In a culture where costs of college are through the roof, we can’t let our kids waste money or accrue mountains of debt for worthless degrees. Parents, be proactive about this.
5. Don’t micromanage your teens. If you’ve built a relationship of trust and giving more responsibility to them as they’ve grown up, you will be able to do the gradual but crucial letting go that is necessary in the teen years. Our job as parents is to raise children who are capable of leaving our home at age 18 and walking into the adult world ready to handle life. It’s a fine line between coaching them and doing it for them. I have struggled with this as well. Do you look over the job application, or do you let them turn it in as is and hope for the best? Think about how you learned things growing up. Didn’t we learn through trial and error? Didn’t we try things and see how they worked? If it didn’t work great that way, we readjusted and tried something different? That’s how our kids will learn too. I find that often I don’t give my kids enough credit. Then when I do look over the application or I run into their boss, the boss has glowing things to say about them, and the application was filled out just fine. Seriously, we need to believe in our kids, and let them know we believe they are totally capable of handling their lives.
One friend wrote to me and was concerned about her child’s homework habits. As we talked through some things, I came to find out that the child is a straight A student in advanced classes. They had some different study habits and times that the mom wasn’t too sure about. But that was working for that child. They were being responsible, obviously getting the information, doing well, so she was able to let it go. She was happy to let the responsibility be on her child, and I know the child appreciated mom believing that he was doing a good job of handling his life.
I love allowing our kids to try things and at times fail, while they’re still under our roof. They have the space and freedom to make mistakes and make corrections and thus learn through the process. Let them talk to their teachers about things, not you always being the one to do that. Let them learn the valuable lesson of talking with adults. Teach them growing up to give a firm handshake and look adults in the eye, and that will carry them far in life.
By the time your child is 16, you should let them determine their bedtime, their classes, and their social life. I recommend that as soon as they are 16 they should get a job. Even a couple days a week will reinforce a work ethic. Our kids paid for their cell phones and car insurance thus they needed a job. These are good things parents! Coddling your child will not help them. Do you think the world out there will coddle them? No way! Its brutal out there and they need to be ready to head out the door prepared for the adult world. You need to teach them there are no free rides in life!
6. If you are a Christian, let your kids see your life in God. Your children need to see that you are authentic and real. If you are a hypocrite, that will drive your kids away from Christ quicker than anything. Giving them a loving example of a real and living faith in a God who is there, will carry them through the ups and downs of life when they leave your home. Let them always know that as they leave your home, they always have you praying for them, and that you are in their corner and that you are FOR them and that you believe in them. They will go into the world with a confidence and ready to take on adulthood.
Are there times, they hit some bumps once they leave? Of course! Your job isn’t over just because they walk out the door. I remember one of our sons called and told us he had run a credit card up to $500. It was his first time ever having a card and he let it get out of hand. So Todd talked it through with him, he got on a payment plan, and went on to have learned a big lesson about debt and credit. He never again got himself in that type of trouble. Life lessons, so good for our kids. We’re there if they need us, but we trust that they’ll do just fine.
I hope these thoughts have been encouraging, This list is not exhaustive, just ones that seemed to help us navigate the teen years with joy. If you have a difficult teen around 13-14, believe me they will turn the corner. We had some tough ones, believe me we went through some difficult times, but they all turn the corner. As you keep loving them, they begin somewhere around 11th or 12th grade to settle into what they need to do, get a vision for life, and decide mom and dad are pretty cool after all. To quote my friend Clara, “The only thing worse than noisy teenagers (her kids played electric guitars continuously in high school) is no teenagers.” 100% agree.
God bless you as you raise your teens to the glory of God!