Raising a teenager in today’s society isn’t for the faint of heart. What makes it particularly challenging for parents is the fact that the way our teens are being raised today is absolutely nothing like the way we were raised. With such a huge disparity between the generations, we really don’t have a lot of experience to draw from or history to base our decisions on. Everything from the influence of social media and intense academic pressure to the prevalence of drugs and peer pressure to grow up far too early are all powerful influences that, for the most part, we never have had to deal with when we were growing up.
Pile these stressors on with the highs and lows of hormones (and I’m not just talking about our kids), and it’s enough to leave any parent (and our kids) feeling frazzled and drained.
As a mom of three teenagers, I’ve learned that parenting should never be static and that in order for me to be a good parent to my kids I need to learn and grow right alongside them. Have I made a few mistakes along the way? Of course, I have. I’m human and, let’s face it, it’s not as if any of us were given a handbook when they handed our kids to us the day they were born. However, through trial and error, I’ve learned a few important lessons along the way.
To foster the relationship that I’m fortunate to have with my kids today, I worked toward striking a delicate balance between a healthy parent-child dynamic and an open, supportive friendship. Although this may seem a little far-fetched to some parents, I’m a firm believer that it’s not only possible to be your child’s parent and friend, in today’s society it’s imperative that we are.
Here’s a few of the parenting principles I used to build a rock solid relationship with my kids:
Give Your Kids the Freedom to Be Themselves
As much as we’d like to mold our kids into perfect little replica’s of ourselves, which would certainly make life much easier, we’re not doing our kids much of a favor or preparing them to face the world on their own by stifling who they are. Rather than controlling, or playing an active role, in every decision your kids make, relinquish some control and embrace who they are. Give them the chance to express themselves to find out who they are and allow them to make important decisions that impact their lives. Not only will they appreciate the freedom you’ve given them, it will boost their confidence and prepare them to make even more important decisions down the road.
Invest in Your Child’s Life
With most teens feeling the need to pull away from their parents and parents, subsequently, feeling the need to tighten their grip, it’s easy to see why the parent-teen relationship can become strained. When you take the time to become invested in your child’s life, it transforms perceived control into genuine interest and concern which opens the door to more relaxed conversation about their daily life. Once you become attuned to their life, thoughts, and feelings, they may begin to view you as a friend and start turning to you for advice or insight.
Back Off When Your Child Needs You To
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about raising teens it’s that teens need their space. Lots of it! Look for cues when your child walks in the door and ask a few questions. If it becomes clear that they just don’t feel like talking or they need some time to themselves, back off. Give them the freedom to escape to their bedroom until they reach the point when they’re ready to talk. When kids need their space, the more you push yourself on them, ask questions, or offer opinions or unsolicited advice, the more they’re likely to pull away.
Spend as Much Time with Your Kids as Possible
Life is hectic and finding quality time with your kids may not always be easy. As opposed to feeling as though you have to carve out a ton of time to connect with your child, focus on precious minutes. Teens are typically always on the go so getting them to commit to an entire day of family time may not necessarily be on the top of their priority list anyway. Focus on quality over quantity. Sit and have a cup of coffee, grab a quick lunch, take a trip to the mall or make dinner together. The more relaxed, quality time you spend with your child, the more they’ll come to appreciate it and look forward to it.
Refrain from Overreacting
This is one piece of advice that’s most definitely easier said than done, but our kids need to know that they can come to us with their deepest secrets knowing that we won’t completely freak out (even though we want to). Remember, the goal is to get them talking and sharing…which means, as parents, we need to temporarily shift our focus from teaching and talking to learning and listening. When we overreact, the door to conversation closes and, believe me, they’ll think twice about telling you anything in the future.
Say “Yes” More than You Say “No”
If you’re like most parents of teens, the word “no” seems to flow from your lips like a river every time your child asks if they can do something that worries or concerns you. Rather than working toward a solution to say yes, it’s oftentimes far easier to just say no. However, teens want and need us to say yes more often. That doesn’t mean we should say yes to things that are dangerous; what it does mean is that we need to find ways to say yes, when possible. If your daughter wants to go to a concert with her friends for example, as opposed to saying no, find a way to say yes. Perhaps you or your husband can sit a few rows back, or you can send them with an older sibling or friend. By the time kids reach the teen years, it’s time to loosen your grip and give them an appropriate amount of freedom to grow.
Make Sure Your Child Knows that You’re Their Safe Zone
When kids are in school or with their friends sometimes it’s hard for them to be themselves due to “friend politics.” Give them a chance to speak openly with you about what they’re truly feeling when it comes to everything from their friends to school to life. The more we show our kids that we always stand ready with a listening ear, that we value their opinions and that those opinions are safe with us, the more we open the door to future candid conversation.
Be Real with Your Kids
As opposed to constantly putting on an air of parental control and authority, dial it down a notch and let your kids know that you’re human too. It’s okay to cry in front of your kids or let them know you’re depressed about something that didn’t go according to plan. On the flip side, stop being so serious. Be silly and get a little crazy with your kids. The more our kids see us as who we really are, and we share what we’re feeling or what we’re going through, the more they’ll be able to relate to us and, in turn, learn from how we handle the normal ebb and flow of life. You may also find that your kids become your greatest supporters when you need a shoulder to lean on.
Be a Solid Role Model
This goes without saying yet, we’ve all witnessed plenty of occasions when parents haven’t proven to be the best role models. Our kids are watching what we do every single day – our actions, our language, our determination – and they’re learning. While there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, we should lead by example and strive to model the behavior we want our kids to adopt. It also means we should set boundaries with our kids in terms of how they treat us. When my kids get a little “off the beaten track” and start treating me too much like a buddy, I sometimes have to reel them in a bit with a reminder that respect is not an option.
With teen anxiety and suicide on the rise, I believe to truly protect our teens in today’s environment we need to be vested in their lives, not directing it from a higher platform. And, in order to encourage open, candid discussion with our teens they need to view us not only as their parent but also as a trusted confidante… a friend. My kids tell me practically everything (trust me, there are things I wish I didn’t know), but I’d much rather know the struggles they’re facing which then gives me the opportunity to help guide them, rather than being completely in the dark. Our kids don’t necessarily have to become “our” friend, but they most certainly need us to be “theirs.”