How Parents Can Bring Out the Best in Their Teenagers

In my last post, How Teenagers Bring Out the Worst in Their Parents, I talked abut the very difficult job of raising teenagers, and how it can effect parents.

In this post, let’s talk about how parents can bring out the best in their teens. It starts when you’re aware of your own issues of control, self-esteem, memory loss, fears, and aspirations. (Check out the previous post for more on this.)

Once you have addressed those things in yourself, there are some things you can do to bring out the best in those opinionated, strong-willed, hormonally challenged aliens we refer to as teenagers:

  • Remember. As I said in my last post, it’s amazing how quickly we forget our own teenage craziness. Remember what it was like for you when you were a teenager and struggling for control and independence. Remember your wrestling with peer pressure and increasing sexual desire. Think about how much you wanted to fit in and be cool. Yes, times have changed, and there are certainly a lot of dangers out there facing your teens. But the basic issues of being a teenager are still the same. They were big for you then, and remembering that will help you be more empathetic and less incredulous when it comes to your teen.
  • Refrain. Refrain from lecturing. Nothing causes a person (teen or otherwise) to tune out and push back more than being lectured to. Try to steer away from talking at them and spend more time talking with them. To do this, you’re going to have to listen more than you talk. The book of James says it well: “…You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19) Once, when I was preparing to teach a series on parenting, I took my two daughters, who were in college at the time, out for pizza. As we ate, I told them what I was getting ready to teach and asked them to share with me all the ways I had messed up as a parent. After a few gun-shy, is-this-a-trap looks, they began to open up and I tried my best to just listened. Actually, it was a really good time. You won’t like everything your teen tells you, and you don’t have to agree with or condone everything they say or do. But you will better earn respect and a right to be heard if you listen more and talk less.
  • Reassign. In the beginning of your parenting career, you were responsible for doing everything. Then, when your children got older, you were responsible for getting them to do what they were suppose to do. But when your child becomes a teen, you must slowly but surely reassign the responsibility for their actions and consequences to them. You can no longer be completely responsible for making them do what you want them to do. Now you must begin giving them the responsibility for doing what they need to do. Again, this must be handed out gradually, but it must happen more and more.
  • Release. So much of raising a teen is about learning to release them. You must learn to release them to their own trial and error. You must release them to suffer the consequences of their actions. And you must release them to discover their own way and direction in life…even if it’s not the way and direction you had hoped for them. I remember being 16 years old and getting ready to leave the house to pick up my date. I was wearing ripped jeans, sneakers, a fedora, a hand-me-down maroon corduroy sports jacket, and a patriotic red, white, and blue Mickey Mouse t-shirt. Oh, did I mention my hair was down past my shirt pocket? I can’t imagine the convulsive shudders of horror it must have brought on my mom as I walked out the door, (let alone on my girlfriend’s mom when she answered the door.) But my mom showed supernatural restraint and didn’t say a word. When you’re raising teenagers, it can be hard to let go of certain things, but you must learn when to catch and when to release.
  • Reconnect. One of the biggest things you can do for your teenager is to reconnect with your spouse…and not just to defend yourselves against the teens. Too many couples put their marriage on hold while they meet all the demands and put out all the fires of parenting. But your parenting should alway take a back seat to your partnering. When you’re truly connected with your spouse, you communicate to your teen that your spouse comes first. This actually gives your teen a sense of security and provides a model for their future marriage. All of this will eventually help you reconnect with your teen in the years to come.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. Raising teens can be a wonderful and rewarding experience. I honestly believe I enjoyed my kids when they were teens as much as any other time in their life…and not in the way you enjoy your dentist when they finally stop drilling on your tooth.

Raising teens is tough, because as they change, you have to change. And sometimes, neither of you really know for sure what you’re doing. But don’t give up and don’t lose heart. Be patient. The pay off is later, so wait for it. And while you’re waiting, keep doing what only you can do to bring out the best in your teenager.

Which of the above approaches do you most need to improve? Not sure? If you’re really brave, try asking your teen. I guarantee you that after they figure out it’s not a trap, you’ll have a good conversation, and you’ll learn something in the process.

Copyright © 2018 Bret Legg

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