Okay–I’ll confess…I originally wanted to title this article “I love them, but sometimes I want to kill them” but I was a little concerned that someone would take me too seriously and I’d have Child Protective Services showing up on my doorstep.
Please don’t call the authorities…I really do love my teenagers (with all of my heart!) and would never ever want any harm to come to them. My boys are the absolute joys of my life and are by far my proudest accomplishment. They are however, teens and with that comes a whole new set of rules for an entirely different ballgame.
As a mom to two teenage sons, of course there are times when I get nostalgic and miss the days when I could just scoop up my babies and smother them with kisses while they giggled and wriggled in my arms. I get a lump in my throat every time I browse through their baby pics and see their pudgy little baby bellies and cherubic toddler grins. I miss the days when I, as their mama, was the center of their universe and they delighted in my love and affection.
Those days are gone. My boys are now far more men than boys. They tower over me so much that I’d be intimidated by their size–if I wasn’t 100% convinced that they’d both absolutely use their size to shield and protect me if ever it was necessary. Their universe is expanding so no longer am I the center of it but instead, I’m more like the earth to them–solid, steady and grounding. Yes–I sometimes ache for the days when I could pull them into my lap and make them laugh with silly knock knock jokes and yet I must confess…there are few things in this world that feel better than having one of my BIG boys wrap me up in a bear hug or yell “love ya mom” as they dash out the door to catch up with their friends. They are growing into adulthood and though my role as their mama has certainly changed over the years, it is no less important now than it was when they were my babies.
It’s hard though, this job of parenting teens. No longer can I just give them “the look” and have it work as discipline nor can I bribe them into good behavior with the promise of an ice cream cone (well okay–in all honesty, that one still works sometimes.) They have now become experts in the art of debate and it can be exasperating. They find ways every day to push the limits and test the boundaries. They screw up in ways that make me shake my head and wonder how on earth I could’ve given birth to such ridiculousness…but then they succeed…and oh–when they succeed my heart utterly soars with pride and love.
No, parenting teenagers is definitely not for the faint of heart. There are battles, rolling eyes, silent treatments and frustration. There is also however, an abundance of heartfelt laughter, good late night conversation and a deepening sense of respect and appreciation. I’m no expert at parenting (not by a long shot) but by some miracle, my boys are turning into strong, capable and (most importantly in my book) kind young men. I’ve done a lot of reading from parenting experts (if there truly even is such a thing) and have discovered a few tips for parenting teens that I have found to be especially helpful. If you yourself are in the trenches and dealing with the ups and downs of raising teenagers, I hope that this information offers you some hope and encouragement.
Tips for Raising Teens without Losing Your Mind
1.) LOVE them: One of the most important things that you can do for your teenager is to LOVE them and give them positive attention and affection. Maybe they don’t fit on your lap anymore but they DO fit in your arms. Hug them, high-five them, kiss them. They may be big but they are still your child and they thrive on parental love and attention. Don’t skimp on this just because they are bigger–affection is something we never outgrow.
2.) Don’t freak out if your teen isn’t just like you were when you were a teen: It’s so hard not to place expectations upon our children based upon our own experiences of life. If we were a jock in high school it might be difficult for us to understand why our child wants to join the marching band instead of going out for football. If we were class president, it might be challenging for us to relate to our child who prefers more solitary activities like reading or drawing. The teenage years however are geared to help our children become their own individuals with their own unique thoughts, preferences, beliefs and desires. It is important that we as parents, step back and let our children discover their own identities (there’s even a technical term for this–individuation) without imposing too many of our own expectations upon them. Yes, have high standards when it comes to grades, behavior, etc. but allow your teen the freedom to experiment with new activities, hobbies, tastes etc. They might just discover a new passion that leads them to an incredibly fulfilling and FabYOUlous future.
3.) Make expectations crystal clear: As a mom to two teens, I’ve learned that if there is any wiggle room in a rule–that rule will get wiggled to death. I learned this when I told my youngest that he needed to be home by a set curfew time. The curfew time came and went without any sign of my boy. I called his cell phone which was of course dead and started to panic. Forty-five minutes later he came sauntering into the house and was shocked that I was so angry because he had (by his definition) been home the entire time. What I had failed to explain was that I considered home to be HOME–as in inside the house. He however interpreted home to mean anywhere on our premises; therefore he was technically home when he was hanging out in front of our house in his buddy’s car. This miscommunication could have been avoided had I done a better job of clearly spelling out my expectations.
Here are some suggestions from parenting experts at the Mayo Clinic to help avoid any confusion when laying out your expectations to your teen: Avoid Ultimatums (teens often interpret ultimatums as challenges), Be Clear and Concise (Keep your rules short and to the point–this allows for less misinterpretation), Put Rules in Writing (this will help to do away with moments of “selective memory” on the part of your teen), Explain if Necessary (your teen might be more likely to comply with a rule if he/she understands the reasoning behind it), Be Reasonable (avoid setting rules that your teen can’t possibly follow–a chronically messy teen might struggle to immediately maintain a spotless bedroom), Be Flexible (as your teen demonstrates more responsibility and reliability, grant him/her more freedom. If your teen exhibits poor judgement, impose more restrictions).
4.) Balance freedom with guidance: Micromanaging your teen’s choices will only reinforce to him/her that you don’t trust him/her to make good decisions independently. It can be a fine line to walk when learning to balance the right amount of freedom while still providing plenty of guidance, but it can be done. Make sure that you provide your teen with plenty of opportunities to practice the skills and discernment that you’ve taught him/her but also let him/her experience the natural consequences when he/she messes up. Over time, your teen will develop increased confidence in his/her ability to make wise and healthy choices.
5.) Discipline from a place of love–not anger: As a parent to teens it is bound to happen–they are going to do something that flat-out makes you MAD. When you are angry however; it is not the right time to make decisions regarding discipline because over reacting and lashing out at your teen can cause resentment and stonewalling. Instead; it is important to skip the drama and take some time to settle down before dishing out the discipline. Once both parties are calmer, it is important to give a full explanation as to why the behavior was unacceptable and what the consequences will be. Be sure to reprimand the behavior not the person and do so without using sarcasm or being condescending. It is also important that you not discipline your child in front of their friends. When imposing restrictions on your teen, consider taking away a privilege or possession that’s meaningful to him/her (cellphone, car, computer time etc.) You might even ask your teen to suggest a consequence–with the understanding that you get the final say. Whatever disciplinary tactic you decide upon, it is imperative that you maintain consistency and that you relate the consequences to the broken rule and deliver them in a timely fashion.
6.) Model the kind of behavior that you want your teen to exhibit: It goes without saying that teens learn more from what their parents do than what they say. It will be difficult for a teen to take seriously a parent’s rules about not smoking when the parent has a pack-a-day habit. On the flip-side, your teen will learn a great deal about confidence if he/she sees you facing new situations with courage and confidence while demonstrating the importance of self acceptance. As a parent, you are your teen’s primary role model. Be sure that you take that role seriously and live your life in such a way that it demonstrates strength of character to your teen.
7.) ENJOY them: Yes, teens can be challenging but they can also be so much FUN. I know that it is important to remember that we, as parents, are not our teen’s friends–however; I must confess that I truly do enjoy the time that I get to spend hanging out with my boys. No, I don’t go with them to parties nor do I tag along when they are on dates with their girlfriends (though in both instances I do wait up for them to get home). I do however go out to eat with my boys and enjoy other fun activities like going to movies and concerts with them. In fact, just last summer my husband and I went to Motley Crue’s final tour with my oldest son and one of his buddies and we had a BLAST. My boys and I are also planning to do a hike up Horsetooth Rock (a natural landmark here in northern Colorado) now that the weather is warming up. These times spent with my sons not only provide me with wonderful opportunities to catch up on the important things that are going on in their lives–they are also just plain fun. Now that my boys are older, their personalities, intellects and senses of humor are more developed and I truly enjoy our conversations. They might deny it–but I know that they enjoy our time together too. So no…my boys and I are not friends–I am still their mom and therefore their chief disciplinarian–but we are becoming more and more friendly which is laying a great foundation for a continued solid relationship in the future.
Teens will always march to the beat of their own drums and test boundaries–that’s what they’re supposed to do and that’s how they gain the skills and confidence to become healthy, successful adults. By balancing discipline and guidance with lots of love, patience and HUMOR, parents can make the most of their child’s teen years and ensure a FabYOUlously rewarding relationship.