Top 10 Tips for Raising Teenagers
The teen years are an awkward time for the teen and the parent. Teens are trying to figure out who they are, and parents are trying to figure out what happened to that child they were holding in their arms "just yesterday." It can be a stressful time, but it can be a fun and rewarding, too.
I loved the teen years. I shared my love for raising my teens in "Why I Love Being the Mom of a Teen." Here, I hope to share some useful tips that will not only allow teens to be individuals but will be help parents to set guidelines to help teens reach their potential and keep love and respect in the changing relationship.
You must always make sure your teen knows where you stand. As a high school teacher, I see teens who try to do what their parents want them to do. Unfortunately, I see teens who do not have a clue as to what their parents want from them, and they flounder about looking for ways to get attention – sometimes this is good, but often times it is bad.
Also, you want your teen to be able to talk to you. You need to let them know where you stand, but do not make yourself unapproachable so they will not come to you during a crisis or when they should seek adult advice. They are dealing with peer pressure. If the door is open for them to talk to you, chances are you can guide them with advice about handling alcohol, sex, anger, sadness, fear of failing, and a variety of other issues. Ask yourself, “Would I rather they talk to me for advice or their inexperienced friends?"
How would you rate your guidelines and consequences?
2. Have Guidelines and Consequences
Teens, and children from birth in general, want guidelines. When I hear a parent say, “I am going to let him decide on his own,” this is usually a comment made about religion, politics, and/or philosophy. My question is how can teens decide for themselves if they have no guidance and support at home?
Guidelines are not popular with teens, but they do make teens feel secure in knowing what is expected – not that they will not break the rules sometimes. For instance, normally teens can’t wait to get their driver’s license. With a driver’s license, there are privileges, such as going out with friends and dating. Teens need to know you expect them to keep their grades up, do their chores, and be part of the family. Give teens a strict curfew. When they start driving, you are going to worry, so 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on week nights is a good curfew and 11 p.m. on weekends. Teens must prove they can handle the responsibility, and you must be consistent with your guidelines.
When teens keep up their end of the deal, there are positive consequences. Nice evenings at home with you showing interest in what your teen is doing, movie night, or going out to eat. When you see your teen being responsible, you could make their curfew a little later. When the teens break the rules, you must give a consequence. I must say that I never took the car away from my teen. That was a punishment to me. Once they get their driver’s license, you gain back some freedom. You can limit where they go – school, job, and church. Other consequences that they hate is taking away their phone, computer, and time with friends.
Look at the rule that has been broken and be reasonable with the sentenced time of the consequence. A broken curfew may mean the teen can’t go out the following Friday night. You know your child and need to discipline appropriately. Trust me, your teen will appreciate guidelines and consequences after they are grown. It teaches them self-discipline and organization in their lives. They also learn what is socially acceptable. (For an analogy of guidelines and consequences, please read my article "Parenting: Jail or Consequences.")
3. Know How to Say "NO"
Teens can be quite creative and persuasive. For instance:
Teen: “Mom, all my friends are planning a camping trip on the lake.”
Mom: “Whose parents are going to be there?”
Teen: “No one’s parents are going to be there, but we will be in a group.” OR “Jimmy’s parents are going to be there.”
Mom: “No responsible parents, you aren’t going.” OR “It concerns me that no adults are going to be there. I am going to call some of the other parents to see what they think.” OR “I want to talk to Jimmy’s parents.”
Teen: “Everyone is going. I don’t see why you are making such a big deal out of it.”
Mom: (Sarcastically) “You poor thing. You have a mom who loves you and wants you to be safe. I am going to make a few calls.” ( A little sarcastic humor helps lighten the mood.)
After such a discussion, the teen usually sees the parent is on to them. Also, when the parent makes those phone calls, they find that “everybody is not doing it,” or other parents feel the same, or “Jimmy’s parents” might be surprised to know they were supposed to be camping on the lake with a group of teens.
Giving into your teen's every wish, whether it is social or material, is giving them a false sense of security, which will lead to a false sense of reality when they leave home. Plus, when a kid is raised with everything, nothing is special.
4. Help Them Be Problem-Solvers, Not Wallowers
Okay, as a high school teacher, here is one thing I see too much of: WHINERS. They wallow in every minute problem that comes along. They blame everyone but themselves and cannot see outside their own created world. More often than not, their parents will come in and side with them. My thoughts are, “Good luck to you and your kid when you are paying his bills ten years from now because you enabled him by making him feel the world is against him.” Whatever happened to "in trouble at school, in trouble at home"?
If you are enabling a wallower, stop it. You are creating a weakling who will be negative in life and dependent on you longer than you want. Practice tough love, and know when to tell your teen to get over themselves.
Realize when your teen has a problem, and help the teen work through it, not wallow in it. Don't minimize problems, but give them perspective by showing your teen there are worse things. Also, show them the positive side of life. When they see how much better they feel with a positive attitude, you will see many problems diminished for your teen with you and others.
5. Give them Chores and Responsibility
As our children turn into teens, they want to be with their peers most of the time. They need to understand there is a trade off. In order for them to know how to behave and live when they move out on their own, be sure you have given them chores that will teach them how to take care of themselves, their home, and their sense of self. You want them to know how to clean house, mow a yard, and take a car to get the oil changed, etc. You want them to learn these skills so they can be independent. You should teach them how to do these things by showing them and giving them guided practice. Practice patience. These teaching moments can be enjoyable or they can be miserable for both; try to make the best of them for your child’s sake and for your sanity. Many chores should begin at a much earlier age. You need only add age appropriate chores as they grow older.
Help instill a sense of responsibility in your teen. For instance, when your teen balks at a chore, remind him it is his responsibility to be part of the family and to help out. If the teen does not want to do chores then time spent with his friends (or something else the teen enjoys) must not have been that important. Even though they want their freedom, they still need to know the responsibilities of being part of the family and the order that chores create in their lives. They get a sense of what should be prioritized - "this before that..."
Your teen may be a great kid, or your teen may be struggling to fit in and have a bad attitude. Try to build self-esteem and self-confidence by giving chores, guidelines, consequences, praise, and constructive criticism. Also, keeping the door open for communications is going to help teens and you. Don’t publically or privately humiliate them for flaws that are beyond their control. For instance, your teen may be overweight or may have a learning disability. You want to help them overcome these issues, not entrench them as part of their self-identity. Build them up, don’t tear them down. Mental abuse can create worse scars than most physical abuse. You chose to have this child, so be responsible by helping the teen feel their existence holds worth with you and the world.
7. Don't Push: You Don't Want Them to Rebel
You have great aspirations for your teen. Discuss what your teen’s goals are. If they do not know and you see their potential in sports or academics, you want to encourage them to rise to their potential. Do not push them into what you believe to be their potential, though. As a high school teacher, I see teens doing things for their parents and resenting every minute of it. I also see teens with supportive parents who thrive and work toward going past their potential. My kids were like me. I didn’t know I wanted a career until I was out of high school for four years (you can read my experience in “Why Did You Become a Teacher?). My oldest got his general education out of the way, went into the National Guard, got married, and is now near the end of his degree program. My youngest is close to having her general education out of the way, but she still is not sure what to major in. With both of my kids, we had long discussions on their strengths and weaknesses and what they thought they could and couldn’t do. After all the years of guiding them, this was the time for me to step back and let them decide while giving them objective advice. I knew what I wanted them to do, but I want them to be happy in their lives by doing what they want to do. I want them to be responsible adults who like to be around me, not resentful because I pushed them into something they didn't want, or, God forbid, are constantly seeking my approval. I want them to stand on their own.
8. Remember Your Youth
One thing that helps me keep perspective with my teens is remembering I, too, used to be a teen. Are there things I did that I don’t want my teens to do today? Absolutely. The reality is that my kids are going to do some of the same things I did and probably add some new things I never dreamed of because they are a new generation.
Keep in mind the positives and the negatives from your teen years and adjust your parenting accordingly. It is hard to be a parent because we know too much about being a teen. Your teens are going to make mistakes just like you did. Don’t try to “save” them each time because mistakes allow them to grow and learn. Remember how your parents were good examples - yet, if your parents were not good examples, remember what you wish they had done now that you have maturity on your side in your retrospect?
9. Be the Parent, Not the Friend
As I mentioned earlier, I love being the mom of teens, and I love teaching teens. You must learn to draw the line. Teen need guidance and discipline to help them become adults. You can have many fun times with your teen and many meaningful times with them, but remember your first job is to be the parent, not the friend. You have to draw the line in many instances, and your teen needs to know the line. I shared my experiences as a teen with my mother in "Lessons I Learned from My Mother." Her tough love at times is what helped me deal with life's curve balls and made me a stronger, independent adult.
10. I Hope You Have Kids Who Are Just Like You
This is one of my favorite lines about raising children. Some of us may feel worn out by our teens and tell them that we hope their children grow up to be just like them – a pain in the butt. My best scenario is taking the good with the bad and hoping my children have kids who will be as good as they were but who still have a few glitches.
Raising teens can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding. Remember, you are the adult. You have already been through this phase in your life. Share your wisdom with your kids by guiding them and by being a good parent who is willing to take the hard line of laying down the law and helping your teen be a good person. Spend time with your teen and know what they are doing.
Do a good job with your teens now, so you won't be raising their kids later.