Making It Through the Teenage Years
For the past nine years I have dedicated my life to working with teenagers and their families. I have seen the awkwardness, strain and tension that begins to develop in families when children officially enter the teen years. Many times the relationship becomes so strained that both the teen and parents don’t know how to fix or navigate the seven years that are Middle School and High School. Parents may say or think things like “I just can’t wait to get them to 18”, or” I can’t wait till they are off to college”.
I don’t think their intentions are to get rid of their child but rather find some relief. Think about all that happens from the time a child enters 6th grade to when they walk into a dorm room or office for work at 18. So much goes into these seven years that it can be overwhelming for anyone.
In seven years, the teen’s body almost completely changes. Add to that their friends are changing, their beliefs and values are being tested and they are learning responsibility and independence. Many are developing significant relationships with others outside their parents for the first time. They are expected to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, what their future will look like and how they will make that future a reality.
Parents are tasked with trying to help them navigate, without being a bother or a nag. Many times parents are treated like they’re an alien who has no idea how to relate. They may feel rejected, stupid and frustrated. Teens feel confused, lonely and stressed.
There are certain aspects that we cannot change. However, as parents, I think there are many we can learn to manage and navigate. I’m not a parent of a teenager just yet, but I can tell you right now I have a 2-year-old going on 13 in my house. Just the other day she was going to be Miss Independent and get something on her own upstairs. I asked her where she was going, she stopped, looked at me, stated she was going upstairs, rolled her eyes and walked up the steps. In that moment I found myself dreading grades 6-12. As I thought about writing this, I got convicted that almost 10 years before my child enters that stage I am dreading it. Am I setting the tone for it to be bad? Have I even given it a chance to not be awful, because I really don’t think it has to be!
I admire people who can find the good in anything; I mean anything! You know the people who could have just lost a loved one, their house is on fire, their car was stolen and they are still talking about how great the weather is. I want to be that person. I think that is a person who can take a tough seven years as a parent and make them successful, productive and healthy.
So how do you do it? Here are four things I think can help you as a parent actually embrace and enjoy the teen years!
#1- Keep talking- It’s dangerous when communication stops. There will be times as your teenager navigates these years that you will just want to give up and shut up. Are there are times when you just need to hold your tongue? Absolutely! But don’t hold it forever. Keep talking. Talk about the weird and awkward stuff. Know what’s going on in their life. Ask about their teachers, their friends, their faith, their relationships. It will be awkward, there is no doubt, but for them to know they can talk to you about anything will benefit your relationship in the long run.
#2- Give and Take- If you’re like most people , you want to be right and you want to win. This parenting thing though is not just about you winning or being right, or at least it shouldn’t be. There will be some things about your teen you are going to have to accept. There will be other things you see in them that have to change. I’ve heard it said before, pick and choose your battles. Parenting is a lot of that. Start now by picking what is important and how you can help them not just be good teenagers, but good adults.
#3- Value their Opinion- Your teen thinks they know it all, or at least that’s what you perceive. Teens aren’t quite so sure you can relate to the things that are part of their daily lives. Let’s be honest, there are certain truths about the teen years that transcend generation and time. They need to feel valued. They need to feel trusted. They need to have responsibility. They need to deal with consequences. Let them be heard, help them transition into becoming an adult by letting their voice be heard. Show them they have worth in this world and in your family.
#4 Be honest- Don’t mask your true emotions and feelings through this time. Be honest with them. Let them know when you’re struggling with a decision or the way they’re acting or have changed. You don’t have to have it all together, so stop acting like you do.
These can be the most challenging years of your family’s life, but they can also be the most rewarding and fruitful. Don’t wish away seven years of your time with your children. You will never get it back. When you don’t know what else to do, pray and lean on God. He will get you through!