Moms, are you dreading those teen years? You’ve gone from 2 to 6 to 10 years old at lightning speed, which makes you know those terrifying years in a child’s life will be on you before you finish fixing dinner.
There are books on handling this age and podcasts that help parents navigate this season, and while those are helpful, the best way to deal with your teenager is what you do before they get there. What you’ve instilled before that season and the relationship you’ve built will see you through these wonderful, albeit challenging, years.
Before I step into the list of things you must do now, I want to assure every parent of this: While ages 13-18 create many unique problems, it also offers a delightful season of seeing your little one transform into a magnificent, almost-adult. So, fear should not be running through your very being; rather, getting ready for a new adventure should be.
But if you want to traverse those years with the best setup, here’s what you need to do now.
6 Ways to Get Ready for the Teen Years
1. Make sure they feel seen.
So, you say, “I see them every day. They are underfoot, chattering constantly, making a mess, and some days making me crazy.” While that is entirely true, do you stop to really see them? Take the time to observe what they are doing. If preoccupied, they may not even notice. That’s not the point. What you are doing is learning who your child is. And each one of them is different. Do they love art, building, sports, or music? They will tell you by the activities they enjoy. Knowledge is invaluable in the teen years.
See them when they are looking too. I recently heard of a father at his child’s sports event who was looking at his phone when his battery died. Putting it aside, he started watching the game. In doing so, he realized his child often looked at him to see if he was watching. His child and every other child on the court did the same. As he looked around the room, almost every other parent was looking at their phone.
Our children are looking for our approval. They want our cheering, encouragement, our support. When we don’t see them, they don’t have it. So, to whom do they look next to get that? It may not be someone you want to influence in their life. Put that phone down and be the one they know is paying attention.
2. Say what you mean; mean what you say.
You are the authority in their lives from the moment they enter your home. You protect them by making rules: “don’t touch”, “don’t run into the street”, and “don’t talk to strangers”. There is a plethora of rules that protect. But those aren’t the only rules; some lead to correction.
These are more difficult because they are subjective. You aim to raise a healthy, emotionally stable, and responsible adult. So, what rules lead to achieving that goal? These are found by doing two things:
The first is understanding your child. Each child is unique, even in behavior struggles, as well as in the ability to communicate. They may be hurting or experiencing issues you are not privy to. Instead of talking it out, they act out. Sometimes the hostility and disobedience indicate something other than mere defiance. Time will help you identify which one you’re dealing with. So, don’t panic about this; get to know your child.
Our children are looking for our approval. They want our cheering, encouragement, our support.
The second is setting reasonable rules. Everything that irritates is not a call for punishment. Your creative child may drive you crazy with their drama or desire to avoid math with all their will. Your engineer-brained child may disassemble instead of build. It looks like breaking toys, but it’s an attempt to figure something out.
Some learned behaviors will serve your child well throughout life but will require ongoing reminders. Honesty, so no lying. Empathy, so no selfishness. Responsibility, so complete what is expected. These and others like them have absolute rules regardless of the catalyst.
Once you establish what corrective rules are, make them and mean them. If you threaten something, you need to do it. So don’t threaten anything, and I mean anything, you are unwilling to follow through on. Here’s what you need to remember: If your 6-year-old knows you don’t mean it, your 16-year-old will know the same thing.
3. Be willing to join your kids in their world.
Hate video games? Not any good at them? It doesn’t matter; play them. Are you terrified of the roller coaster? Try riding with them or find a reasonable alternative. Hate getting dirty? Don’t want to add another load of laundry to your workload? It doesn’t matter; get in the mud with them.
They need to know you want to be part of their lives. They want to be part of yours. This is also true in the teen years, even though it may not seem like they do. Establishing life-sharing when they are young enables life-sharing as they grow. It also creates an excellent opportunity for communication. If they know you are terrified of that roller coaster but willing to go for them, there is a perfect opportunity to discuss overcoming fear.
Conversations with your child in a completely comfortable setting (of their choosing) become more authentic and frequent. They are inclined to share their thoughts when you’re sharing their interests. So, get in there and join them.
4. Teach them to lead, not follow.
In reality, not everyone is a leader, at least not in the traditional terms. Heads of business, government, and even parent groups or committee heads are all considered leaders. But every one of us leads in our own lives. Making choices like who we’ll pursue relationships with, what we want to do, and how we want to live.
Teaching our children to lead their lives independently of other people’s influence and ideas is essential. We want to raise children into adults who can think for themselves. There is a part of this that’s uncomfortable as a parent. As your child heads into adulthood, some of their ideas will not mirror yours. You may not be prepared for the reality that they may be right in their divergent opinion. But whether correct or not, you must learn the art of no emotion. Nothing is more effective in a child’s digging into a theory than a parent’s reaction. And that gets more apparent in the teen years.
5. Let them experience what is needed to develop resilience.
One of the most needed traits we need in life is resilience. It is essential for you, for me, and for our children. This is not built by living a painless existence. It is through facing hard things, problems, and defeats that resilience is gained.
As parents, we never want to see our kids hurt. Their pain is our pain; we feel their disappointment deeply. But keeping them shielded from all hurt is not only a disservice to them—it is also handicapping them for the rest of their life.
Your child’s reactions to life challenges will go from internal to external. Much like our own. Internal is the feeling that you can’t get through whatever you face. External is blaming someone else. Neither are successful ways of coping, but they often must be worked through before taking the next step, which is making an effort to move forward and finding a way through to the other side successfully. It doesn’t help for us to fix it for them. Instead, we need to be ready to step aside and let them work through this process on their own. It will ensure they develop a much-needed quality: resilience.
6. Teach them they are exactly who they need to be.
Every human is a bundle of unique abilities, talents, and ways of thinking. The same is true of that child entrusted to you. And it is good. If you believe that to be true about your child, they will too.
Take the time to let them know what you treasure in them. Make a list, read it to them, and hang it on their wall. Remind them when they need it and when they don’t. Let them know you love them, but let them know you like them too. Every part of who they are.
If you build a relationship with them before the teen years, your chance of maintaining it through the teen years is exponentially greater.
If you teach them individual thinking, how to believe in themselves, and how to be resilient, every one of those traits will carry them through those years.
The teen years are not without turbulence. They are pulling away, as they should. They are forming their thoughts, as they should. But they need you now and will trust me—they will need you then.
Handling the attitudes and emotions of teens can be a daunting task. For help navigating this season of your child’s life, listen to this podcast episode: How Can I Connect and Communicate with My Teenager Better? with Jerusha Clark – 182