Summers often pass in a blur, and each family prepareds for the busyness of fall. There are school clothes to buy and perhaps final occasions for short vacations, picnics or other leisure activities. Let me take this opportunity to talk briefly to moms and dads about their adolescent sons and daughters. We’ll call this letter a “brief refresher course” drawn from my book, Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, which I hope you will find helpful and enjoyable.
To help parents cope with these special stresses of the adolescent years, let me offer three suggestions that have been beneficial to others, as follows:
Boredom is Dangerous to Energetic Teenagers, Keep Them Moving
The strong-willed adolescent simply must not be given large quantities of unstructured time. He will probably find destructive ways to use such moments. My advice is to get him involved in the very best church youth program you can find. If you're sitting on a keg of dynamite, you have to find ways to keep the powder dry! Not only can this be done through church activities, but also by involvement with athletics, music, horses or other animals, and part-time jobs. You must keep that strong-willed kid's scrawny legs churning!
Don't Rock the Boat
Another piece of advice I have for parents of teenagers is: "Get 'em through it." That may not sound like such a stunning idea, but I believe it has merit for most families—especially those with one or more tough-minded kids. The concept is a bit obscure, so I will resort to a couple of pictures to illustrate my point.
When parents of strong-willed children look ahead to the adolescent river, they often perceive it to be like this:
In other words, they expect the early encounter with rapids to give way to swirling currents and life-threatening turbulence. If that doesn't turn over their teenager's boat, they seem destined to drown farther downstream when they plunge over the falls. Fortunately, the typical journey is much safer than anticipated. Most often it flows like this:
What I'm saying is that the river usually descends not into the falls but into smooth water once more. Even though your teenager may be splashing and thrashing and gasping for air, it is not likely that his boat will capsize. It is more buoyant than you might think. Yes, a few individuals do go over the falls, usually because of drug abuse. Even some of them climb back in the canoe and paddle on down the river. In fact, the greatest danger of sinking the boat could come from... you!
You have to pick and choose what is worth fighting for and settle for something less than perfection on issues that don't really matter. Just get them through it!
What does this mean in practical terms? It may indicate a willingness to let her room look like a junkyard for awhile. Does that surprise you? I don't like lazy, sloppy, undisciplined kids any more than you do, but given the possibilities for chaos that this individual might precipitate, spit-shined rooms may not be all that important.
You might also compromise somewhat regarding the music you let him or her hear. I'm not condoning music that is saturated with explicit and illicit sex and violence. But neither can you ask this on-the-go teenager to listen to your "elevator music." Perhaps a compromise can be reached. Unfortunately, the popular music of the day is the rallying cry for rebellious teenagers. If you try to deny it altogether to a strong-willed kid, you just might make it worse. You have to ask yourself this question: "Is it worth risking everything of value to enforce a particular standard upon this son or daughter?" If the issue is important enough to defend at all costs, then brace yourself and make your stand. But think through those intractable matters in advance and plan your defense of them thoroughly.
It is simply not prudent to write off a son or daughter, no matter how foolish, irritating, selfish or insane a child may seem to be. You need to be there, not only while their canoe is bouncing precariously, but after the river runs smooth again. You have the remainder of your life to reconstruct the relationship that is now in jeopardy. Don't let anger fester for too long. Make the first move toward reconciliation. And try hard not to hassle your kids. They hate to be nagged. If you follow them around with one complaint after another, they are almost forced to protect themselves by appearing deaf. And finally, continue to treat them with respect, even when punishment or restrictions are necessary. Occasionally, you may even need to say, "I'm sorry!"