How to Like Your Kid(s) ~ Teens

// November 14th, 2012 // Uncategorized

I love kids of all ages, but I’m especially fond of teenagers. Though they seem to challenge parents at every turn, they need encouragement at a time many adults turn their backs to the stereotypical model they assume all teens are. Your teen is so close to becoming the person they will be—the adult who will make decisions for our futures…at the polls and near the end of our lives.

That’s why this post has been the most difficult, by far, to write. I want to do them justice without whitewashing the realities of separation and becoming that are like another birth, complete with its own labor pains.

The trouble with teens is they have truly adult feelings and thoughts that are unprotected by the layers of experience shielding our hearts and minds. Everything they feel, they feel completely, whereas we feel through protective membranes developed by experience. {Honestly, some people call this callousness or cynicism. I prefer to see it as a natural patina that improves with age.}

So…how do you get to like a teenager? The same way you grow to like anyone. Spend time with them. Time is at a premium now, but make sure to include your teen in family activities—cooking, family game night, and family outings. Talk with them, but more important, listen. This is how to get to know your kid as a person. Who he’s becoming. What she believes. What they want out of life, and what they plan to put into life.

Withhold judgment…often. Choose your battles. Some are not worth fighting {hairstyle and color, most piercings, non-vulgar slang—to barely scratch the surface} and winning those can undermine the relationship you’ve worked hard to build.

Trust, but not blindly. If your teen wants to spend the night with a friend, check with the other parents. Check your teen’s chat and surfing history. Who are they talking to? Who are their friends? This isn’t excessive—unless, of course, you hang it over them like a guillotine—as always, find balance.

 Hold true to yourself. My friend told me, “My kids’ blaring rock music is driving me crazy!”

“Mine aren’t allowed to listen to Metallica and the like when I’m home.”

“Oh, they’re going to do it anyway,” she lamented.
“Sure, and they can do it somewhere where it won’t grind my nerves to a pulp.”
But, that was me. Your style may be more like my friend’s. We both had teens that are now great adults.

Another piece of advice that helped keep the peace in our family…if s/he gets a ticket, s/he pays for the ticket. Traffic violation or a concert, that’s their responsibility. My son Steve saw where his friend ended up {unemployed, homeless, and hopeless} after years of the mom bailing him out of tight situations he continued to create for himself long into adulthood (payday loans, disconnected utilities, diapers for the baby, even jail). Steve knew tight situations, too. He also spent time in jail. Coming home after a week there, he told me, “I am so glad you didn’t bail me out, Mom. I know I never want to go back there and I plan to stay out.”

The whole point of raising kids is to help them grow into effective citizens. Stretching limits at the right time teaches them to make choices. {Choices that began early with, “Do you want the red cup, or the blue cup?” and eventually include the complicated questions of right and wrong in every aspect of life.} They’re going to make mistakes. They have to make mistakes—and pay the penalties of those mistakes. Without consequences, they can’t learn the lessons. If they start making choices early, those consequences are minor. I may be wrong, but I think this is why too many college freshmen spend too much time partying and not enough time studying. Decision-making is an unrehearsed concept.

 Preparing for this post, I asked my daughter, Amy, what’s the most challenging part of mothering her two teen daughters. “I want to stay close to them, but let them go at the same time. It’s quite the balancing act!”

Well stated. Knowing when to set limits, stretch those limits, and then drop them altogether means keeping all your plates spinning at the same time*, always assessing maturity level. And there aren’t any hard and fast rules. With each teen, the timing of loosening the limits changes because no two siblings are exactly alike. A balancing act, indeed.

* (a great analogy for parenting!)

Joining the track team is a great way to burn off those unharnessed energies of youth. Here, Robyn runs cross-country for her school.

P.S. One of my favorite negotiations with my teens…..
“What time do I have to be home?”
“Ten. You’ve got a class tomorrow.”
“Can’t I stay till eleven? You know I’ll be up that late, anyway?”
“Nope. Be in the door by nine.”
“What!? Ten is fine.”

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