Mantras for Parents of Teens
Sheryl Overby, MS LIMHP
1. We have to raise the kids we have, not the kids we were
This is a new day and age, and although we think the way we grew up or was parented worked pretty good, it most likely will not work in today’s society, culture and educational system. Kids are taught starting in preschool to have critical thinking skills, so they are learning to think for themselves and evaluate situations on their own. This will be great when resisting peer pressure, but it also means they will be less likely to follow your advice just “because I said so”.
2. It’s harder for them than it is for us
I know parenting is really hard and sometimes you have to put up with so many hassles that you wonder why you wanted to have kids in the first place. But no matter how hard it is for parents, it is much harder to be a kid, and especially a teenager today. They have more pressures than prior generations, including being asked in 8th grade to choose their career paths and the issues with social media are unprecedented. If you don’t believe me, check out a book by Chap Clark, Hurt Kids 2.0
3. It’s not about you, they just take it out on you
Kids have a tough time managing their emotions, and they have to spend all day at school being calm, following directions and managing the peer social strata of high school or middle school. Kids get about 500 commands a day, plus the hormones which lead to mood swings. They are literally “fried” when they get home from school. My 12 year old daughter yelled at me one day when asked how her day at school was. I could have punished her for “being disrespectful”, but instead I gave her some time to cool down and gently approached the subject again later. Come to find out, the boy she had a crush on did not say “hi” to her in the hallway that day at school. I know, seems silly as an adult, but to her this was devastating and her disrespect had nothing to do with me.
4. Timing is everything
One of the key lessons I learned the hard way was to always ask first before talking to my teens and pre-teens. Whether I just wanted to chat or focus on a problem behavior or a teaching moment, I eventually learned to ask if “this is a good time to talk?” The key word is “time” as they don’t always get a choice to talk, just a choice on when to talk. If a kid is not in the mood to talk and you go ahead, it will very likely turn out badly, trust me.
5. They have their own brain
Your children are not little robots, and therefore, can not be completely controlled by you. Whether we like it or not, they have their own brain and they are able to use it to make their own decisions. This is the nature vs. nurture argument. It is very important how you interact with your child and develop a relationship. But it’s also important to remember that you can’t control everything. If you have a kid who is compliant and eager to please, thank your lucky stars. You might want to take credit for it, but it’s actually more likely that it’s part of their “natural bent”. I had 3 kids; one was rebellious, one was worried about being perfect and so was compliant and one just complied because she wanted to. Not scientific proof, but true.
6. Their brains are the reason.
A child’s brain (mostly the pre-frontal cortex) does not fully mature until they are 24 or 25. This part of the brain manages their ability to make good decisions, plan ahead and problem solve. This is a developmental thing, just like learning to walk, parents have almost no control over when it actually happens. So based on this fact, the following mantras apply:
a. You can’t fix lack of maturity
They are going to make dumb decisions, its not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN and WHAT KIND, so don’t be surprised when they… don’t use their book for an open book test, pick a loser boyfriend or want to buy a $400 dress for their Junior prom.
b. Don’t expect them to plan ahead, for anything
Planning ahead is an adult thing, not a kid thing. You can help train them, but it will not come naturally until they are out of college. They especially have a hard time deciding what to do when they go out as a group as teens. The best you can expect is that they tell you where they end up, not where they are going. Since they literally change their minds on the way to place X to go to place Y instead. Hopefully they have good critical thinking skills that they have honed since preschool and will have a way to get out of bad situation if needed.
c. They are more likely to learn from their own mistakes
You can preach, lecture, give consequences and scold, but kids who learn from their own mistakes are more likely to actually remember the lesson. It is so painful to watch as parents, because you know if they just listened to you, you could save them heartache and pain. But, what was the best way you learned?
7. Find a parenting mentor with kids about 5-7 years older than yours.
Parents with kids younger than yours or much older won’t be nearly as helpful as those who have just survived the stage you are in. Friends or family who don’t have kids or who have younger kids have all sorts of advice, and are happy to think they are experts, but they don’t really understand what it is like. When you talk to parents of kids that are just a few years older, they give very little advice and are more likely just to pat you on the shoulder and remind you that you will live through it. Since the truth is, every kid is completely different, and what works in one family, may or may not work in another. And if you talk to grandparents or folks with much older kids, they have forgotten how difficult it is and have these nice sweet remembrances and memories; which is not much comfort either.
8. If I let my teenager live, I will have grandchildren some day.
I know this is a morbid thought, but having teenagers was the hardest time for me. Every parent has a favorite stage of parenting and mine was everything but adolescence. The mantra that got me through lots of frustration during the teen years was the potential to enjoy grandchildren. I even found a plaque that said “you have children to love and grandchildren to love you back”.
9. Always “reset” the relationship
It is tempting to have an argument with your child, then wake up the next day and just go on as if nothing happened. With younger kids, they might forget, but teenagers won’t. The relationship has to be reset. This might mean an in-depth conversation with both parties apologizing, or might mean a simple gesture of sending heart emojis in a text. But there has to be a way to validate the relationship is back on track and you are there to be their safety net and coach. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get over the resistance of initiating the “reset” button. Do you want your child to come to you if they are in an abusive relationship? Do you want your child to call you if they are stuck at a party with no ride home? Do you want to walk your child down the aisle at his/her wedding? Do you want or help your child buy his/her first car?
10. Get a second opinion
If you are a single parent, please find an accountability partner or mentor to help you stay on track. It might be nice to have complete control over parenting decisions, but the downside is that there isn’t anyone there to help you know if you are over reacting or under reacting. And one or the other happens almost all the time. Getting a second opinion will prevent regrettable parenting decisions and the need to go back on your word. Another way to prevent this is wait to decide about major decisions for 24 hours, most people have a clearer head after a good nights sleep and more time to think about the right thing to do.