I know it’s hard but it will get better. You may be questioning what has happened to the sweet little ones that once played so carefree. It can sometimes seem like aliens from another world have taken over their bodies. Just know that they are still there. And if you watch closely you might even get a glimpse of them from time to time.
It is the design of God that children have to wander through the wilderness of adolescence on their way to becoming adults. It’s an often difficult journey fraught with challenges and even peril. I know, from raising four of my own and from helping hundreds of others who have needed a little extra help during those difficult years, that the physical awkwardness, the emotional chaos, and the crazy behavior that has you worried now, will eventually pass.
As children grow and change, as all children do, so should your discipline methods. As they get older you need to change up your tactics. You must be flexible and ready to switch up your motivational strategies as needed. I encourage you to take the offensive, acquire as many disciplinary tools as possible so that you are ready at every developmental stage to pull something from your parental bag of tricks.
Remember, what works well when children are younger will not be effective as they get older and so, just as your children are learning and adapting to new information and different environments; you must also be learning and adapting as well. The truth is, every child presents discipline challenges at every age, and it's up to parents to figure out how to handle them.
But be encouraged, parenting isn't something new and it’s not rocket science. There are many good resources out there you can draw from and the very best resource may be other parents, including your own. The temptation and issues that parents face may be different from one generation to the next but an adolescent hasn't really changed that much over the past century.
Second, understand that there are things parents can do while their children are small that will better prepare them to parent teenagers.
If parents are careful to develop and maintain a caring, trusting relationship with their small children it will be far easier for them to provide the discipline they might require when they are older.
Open communication is essential in the adolescent years when their peers become more influential than their parents. It’s not something parents can just start when their children reach that stage and expect everything to be fine but it is something that can be more easily maintained if it was present when they were smaller.
With that in mind, talk to your kids at every age. More importantly, let them talk to you. Listen - to everything. Children test our reactions and how we might respond to certain things by talking about other unrelated issues so be sure you hear them out. If you do this when they are young it won’t seem so foreign to them when they are older and it won’t be so unnatural for you.
Third, teenagers need their parents to be parents not their friends. Listen to me please, parents. There is something you need to understand. Your children do not need you to be their friend, their pal, or their buddy. But they do desperately need you to be their parent.
I know that doesn't sound cool. It’s not. And yes, I understand that it takes hard work to be a parent. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant. You will have to say no and you will have to make some pretty tough decisions that your children will not like, in fact they may temporarily hate you for it. But trust me, they really need that from you and in the end they will love and thank you for it.
Friends and buddies they can get anywhere but good parents are hard to come by. So, be brave. Do the tough thing. Parent up. You, they, and the rest of us will be glad you did.
Related to that, is the need your teen has for you to be a mean parent.
We all understand that teens are heavily pressured by their peers. They sometimes need their parents to be the bad guy so they have an excuse to get out of something they are being pressured to do. My daughters always had my permission to use me as an excuse, to say to their friends, including boyfriends, “I can’t, my dad won’t let me.” That got them off the hook of having to say no in an environment where everyone is saying yes.
Fourth, the bit of advice I am going to share here is suitable not just for parents of teenagers but for teachers, coaches, youth ministers, anyone really who works with young people. It’s actually something that’s taught in leadership training and when you are dealing with teenagers it’s actually more about leadership than it is about parenting because it’s more about maintaining influence rather than maintaining control.
What you allow, you encourage.
Parenting, mentoring, leadership in general but working with teenagers in particular is about setting limits as much as it is about setting goals and expectations. The word “no” is a powerful tool. Maybe it should be used more often.
But, teenagers don’t like to hear it and so we parents don’t like to say it because it makes us look mean. The truth is, “no” may be the best thing parents of teens can say. Sometimes it is the best act of parenting we can execute.
Parents, it is your job to enforce the values and rules of your family. If you don’t then you are saying by your inaction that your values are not really your values and the rules not really rules. Again, you have to start when they are younger or it simply won’t work.
To be clear though, teenagers should have more freedom and less limits the older they become but there still should be some structure and limits. The truth is they crave it. Setting appropriate limits and saying no when needed, communicates to them that you really care. It provides them with a sense of security.
Just as important as it is to set limits and say no, it's absolutely crucial that you find more ways to say yes to their teen than to say no. you can do that by giving choices and options to your teen that would make it easier for you to say yes. One good rule of thumb would be for you to provide one opportunity for every time you have to say no.
For example, for every time you say no to their request or their demands for stuff, material things (clothes, electronics, gadgets), provide an opportunity for time with you and or for healthy experiences where they can learn and grow. In other words, give them the gift of your time and life experiences where they can make memories or learn new skills. They probably don’t need more stuff but they can always use more of your time, especially if it strengthens your relationship. Say yes to those things as much as you have to say no to the other things.
Fifth, the stakes are high. Teenagers can get into a lot more serious trouble with grave consequences and that can cause a great deal of fear and doubt. But Parents should not keep those feelings and thoughts from their teens. Teens respect their parents more if parents are honest with them about their uncertainties.
Parents, you should also be honest with their teen when you are wrong. Just admit it. It could very well be the best thing you ever do for your children. When you are wrong admit it. When you make a mistake admit that you did. Say you are sorry and if it is called for, ask for forgiveness.
As it turns out, we parents say and do a lot of dumb and idiotic things. Our best response in those times is to admit that we are not perfect, that we don’t always get it right, that we are flawed and sinful beings. Our children already know it, especially if their teenagers. So go ahead, swallow your pride and whatever false notion you have of needing to appear perfect to your teenagers and admit it – whatever it is.
In doing so, you will give our children permission to see you as human. There are many upsides to this but one big plus is that your children will realize that making a mistake is not the end of the world, and that relationships can be repaired if a heartfelt apology is given and actions are changed.
Last, I would advise parents of teenagers to take a strengths based perspective when it comes to raising teens.
Focus on the good more than the bad. Always be as positive as possible. Encourage them, praise them, and show them what is unique and beautiful about them.
I understand that is the the negative stuff that grabs our attention and scares us but as much as you can, as often as you can, highlight your teens strengths and downplay their weakness. Find ways for those strengths to be displayed and their weakness mitigated.
Let them pursue their interest, as many interest as they want and you can afford. Yes, those pursuits can be expensive but so can the alternative. And yes, they will pursue many dead ends before they find their sweet spot but that is okay. Keep them busy doing that and they won’t have time to pursue the bad stuff.
The parents my wife and I look up for they way they got it right with their teens once told us their secret. They said “we kept them so busy with good activities and surrounded by positive peers that they didn't have the time nor the interest in the bad stuff.”
That certainly requires time, energy, and sacrifice on behalf of the parents but the truth is that what it takes to raise healthy teenagers in an unhealthy culture.