This month it’s official: three of our kids are now full-fledged teenagers. I know the thought of having three teens in the house makes some people shudder, but I think teenagers get a lot more bad rap than they deserve. When my siblings and I were teens, we certainly gave our parents gray hairs. But on the whole we had a great rapport with them. They worked really hard on our relationships, guiding, supporting, and encouraging us.
We can expect the teenage years to be a roller coaster ride. After all, it is a time of rapid growth and development, so frustrations, disappointments, and misunderstandings are bound to happen. But this doesn’t mean the teenage years need to be as awful as many anticipate. I can honestly say I enjoy my teens’ company and conversation. And they are often a tremendous help around the house. Of course we have our moments. So to help navigate through them, I made myself a list of Dos and Don’ts, mostly gleaned from parenting books and wise advice. For those of you with kids age 12 and up, I hope you find it helpful!
1. Don’t worry when your once compliant, happy-go-lucky child disappears and out emerges a rebellious and moody middle schooler/teen.
Do remember that your teens are yearning for independence and autonomy while trying to figure out their identities apart from you. They’ll try on different personas and experiment with different interests and tastes. It’s a difficult time of uncertainty and insecurity for them. Your calm confidence will help counter their insecurities.
2. Don’t succumb to the pressure of conforming to “everyone else’s” permissive standards.
Do stand strong on your convictions. You, not anyone else, are accountable for your children’s upbringing. Band together with other like-minded parents. Seek advice. Strengthen and support each other. But don’t violate your teen’s trust. (Don’t advertise your teen’s latest misdemeanor to your friends.)
3. Don’t treat them like their younger siblings.
Do give them more independence and privileges. But teach them that freedom must always come with responsibility. Freedom is the ability to do the right thing, and responsibility is the ability to respond to any given situation with justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence. In the adult world, freedom and responsibility come hand in hand. To prepare them for this, help your teens be more independent, but at the same time, demand of them more responsibilities. For example, the freedom to drive should come with the responsibilities of chauffeuring siblings and running errands for the family.
4. Don’t let your teens get away with lies and deceptions.
Do emphasize the importance of honesty and integrity. To enjoy the independence and privileges they long for, teens need to prove that they are both responsible and trustworthy. The virtue of honesty is perhaps the most important virtue teens need to work on during the adolescent years. At the same time, be careful that you don’t over-react to their mistakes, egregious as they may be. This will only make them want to hide their mistakes from you. Expect mistakes: big ones, thoughtless ones. Remember their judgment is not yet fully formed. So use their mistakes as a learning opportunities without losing your cool. (Much easier said than done, of course!) You can more easily trust them if they are open and honest. They will trust you if you are calm, understanding, and fair.
5. Don’t try to win every argument.
Do try to win their confidence and hearts instead. With teens, effective discipline is more courting and persuasion than enforcing. There will be times you need to put your foot down, but remember, you’re walking on egg-shells. It may seem, at times, that you will win their confidence by giving them everything they want. But you will not gain their respect this way. Be understanding, and don’t be dismissive of their feelings or half-baked arguments. Avoid sarcasm. Verbalize their point of view so they know you are listening. Then explain your rationale calmly and very patiently.
It helps a lot to have well thought-out answers to some of their tough questions, such as, Why don’t you trust me? Why won’t you give me freedom? and All the other kids my age have the latest electronic devices. Why can’t I? James Stenson has written an excellent book that addresses all these questions: Preparing for Adolescence: A Planning Guide for Parents. However don’t expect to convince your teens just yet. Have confidence that in the long run your teens will come to appreciate your point of view.
One great way to get your point of view across is to email them an article every now and then. Hey, here’s this article on the impact of social media on teens. What do you think? If they read it, they’re getting stats and information from experts, not just Mom and Dad’s “out-dated” opinions.
6. Don’t lecture your teens ad nauseum. And don’t always expect your teens to be open to what you have to say.
But do make opportunities for friendly conversation. The silent, reticent teen may need special dates in order to open up. Consider opportunities such as shopping for clothes, camping trips, or dinner for two at a favorite restaurant. When you need to correct your teen, wait for the best time and place. Don’t correct them in front of other people, and don’t correct them when you are angry. In addition, give them opportunities to hear the truth about life and love from other trustworthy people: other family members, youth ministers, teachers, mentors, coaches.
7. Don’t criticize their friends, or they’ll stop talking about their friends.
Do encourage friendships that are real and wholesome. Remember they’re still trying to figure out who their real friends are. Get to know the kids they hang out with. Have them over at your house. Teach your teens to be proactive about choosing and building true friendships based on mutual respect. If they’re using social media, make sure that these apps are enchancing real-life friendships, not substituting for them.
8. Don’t let them spend too much time in their room with a tablet, laptop, or smart phone. Teens can be so self-centered and myopic that they implode on themselves.
Do help them to think of others. Encourage them to spend time with other family members, particularly younger siblings. Give them opportunities to volunteer, to get outside of themselves. The less they think about themselves, the happier they’ll be.
9. Don’t let them have too much free time. Idleness is the devil’s workshop, especially when accompanied by social media/video games.
Do give them meaningful work. Give them manual work. Teach them to use their time well and to develop their talents for the service of others and the glory of God.
10. Don’t be judgmental. Banish negative thoughts from your mind and mouth.
Do be understanding. Teens today have to deal with a lot of stress to deal — so many expectations are placed on them from parents, teachers, coaches, friends, etc. Let them know you appreciate what they’re going through. Then accentuate the positive. And always keep in mind your teen’s strengths and good qualities. Show confidence in your teen’s inherent goodness. Express confidence that he/she will one day mature into a considerate and responsible adult.
11. Don’t give up on building a relationship of trust and love, no matter how tense and difficult the relationship may be.
Do communicate your unconditional love again and again. No one will love your teen as much as you do, except perhaps their future spouse. Make it clear that your decisions come from a sincere desire to nurture your teen’s holiness and happiness.
12. Don’t regard their moody behavior as a reflection of your parenting. Because it’s not. It’s a reflection of their inner turmoil, which is part of the rite of passage into adulthood.
Do stay calm and pray and pray on.
Overall, optimism and understanding! This is what David Isaacs once wrote to my parents in their copy of Character Building. He’s absolutely right.
Did I miss anything? If I did, let me know. Share your advice on raising teens below.