It has been said that when you raise teens, it’s important to have a dog in the house so that someone is glad to see you! There’s no doubt that teens can be quite a challenge to have around.
For many parents, raising teens is the hardest season of parenting. It’s uncomfortable, messy, chaotic, and can make you question every parenting decision you make. And, although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to raising teens, there are some uncomfortable truths that every parent of a teen needs to acknowledge if they want to have any hope of coming out of the teen years with a good parent/child relationship.
Truth #1: Teens Still Need to Be Hugged. A lot.
They may roll their eyes, hug you back with the enthusiasm of a wet rag, or may not hug back at all. Don’t let that deter you. Your teens need the physical touch of your love, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
Truth #2: Listen to Them on Their Terms.
If there’s one thing I learned in trying to communicate with my three kids as teens, it was that they weren’t always in the mood to talk. But when they were, if it was at all possible, the best thing for me to do was drop everything and listen. Even if it was late at night, while I was working, or busy in another conversation, I would do the best that I could to take advantage of their willingness to talk and excuse myself from other things just so that my ears were available.
When you’re in the middle of something and your child interrupts because they want to talk, it’s okay to say, “Hey, my child needs me right now, can I get back to you?” Most adults will understand. Kids, not so much.
Listening to our kids is not always convenient, but it is crucial to their perception of our love for them.
Truth #3: Teens Need to Have Hard Conversations with Parents
There are many hard conversations that you must have with your teen. They need to hear the truth from their parents about sex, drugs, drinking, online safety, bullying, cheating, depression, and much more. These conversations may not be easy and will most likely be awkward. But they are part of a parent’s job. Don’t turn that job over to peers, or even expect other adults to do your work. Others can confirm it and support it, but be sure they are hearing it from you too.
Truth #4 Teens Need to Hear No.
Even while it’s important to hear your teens out, to understand their perspective, and to listen to their emotions in an effort to resolve issues together, there will be times when the one word your teen needs to hear after you’ve explained your perspective is NO.
I’ve known parents that try too hard to be liked by their teens, parents who have already given up and just let their kids do whatever they want, and parents who are just trying to keep peace in the house–and NO is a word they try to avoid using for fear of their teen’s reaction.
Be choosy about your NOs, yes, but if you know in your gut that NO is exactly what your child needs to hear in a certain situation, then say it! Be sure it’s accompanied with why you’re saying no, and reassurances of your love. Sure, they may be angry and hate you in the moment, but at some point they will know deep down that a NO was your way of saying “I love you.”
Truth #5: Teens Will Rebel or Push Back and Parents Need to Be Okay With That.
Even the best-behaved teens will have their moments of rebellion or pushing back against Mom and Dad. As much as we’d like to raise trouble-free kids, the honest truth is that this contrariness is really okay.
How many times have you wondered…
- Why does everything I try only push my teen away?
- Whatever happened to my sweet little girl?
- Why does my child love to push my buttons?
- Why won’t my teen listen to me?
- Why can’t my teen see the obvious consequences of their choices?
There’s actually a reason for all this ornery behavior. During the teenage years, the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is developing. This part of the brain is the thinking and judgment center. Whereas younger children may not see parental flaws, adolescents suddenly start to see the world differently.
Dr. David Elkind, clinical psychologist and author of All Grown Up and No Place to Go, explains that all the arguing by teens is a result of the prefrontal cortex at work, and as a child becomes a teen, their brains are better able to turn information into ideas.
Teens want to exercise their new skill — and they tend to practice on their parents. It may seem that they argue for the sake of arguing. But really, they’re practicing their new abilities.
So the bottom line is this: your kids are growing into their ability to think and sometimes that results in pushing back or rebelling. Your job, then, is not to override their thinking, but to help them sort through their thinking and learn how to use that thinking in a positive and smart way.
Instead of ignoring your child’s thoughts and opinions, minimizing them, or totally overriding them, try working with them as they are learning to think for themselves. Ask lots of questions, do lots of listening, empathize with them, and then share your perspective as a parent. Your goal is to teach them critical thinking skills, not just inform them of how they should think.
I laugh when I read this quote: Raising teens is like nailing jello to a tree.
The life of a parent raising teens is slippery, constantly changing shape, and near impossible to get a solid grasp on because as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, some new crisis arises. Start with these 5 uncomfortable truths and you will at least have the nail and hammer in hand. Good luck with the jello.