advertising-colors-colours-55801The teen years are a challenging period for parents. The challenge is that teens look like adults. They have adult bodies, and once they get into high school, they start to dress like adults. But they aren’t adults. Their brains are still developing. So, they lack adult emotional maturity and judgment. As a result, they desperately need mature, adult guidance.

Unfortunately, since our teens look like adults, there is a temptation to think that they no longer need our direction. And there is a temptation is to let them engage in adult activities and make adult decisions, when they simply aren’t ready.

In fact, I see many parents allow their teenage children to engage in adult activities. They let them have sex, drink alcohol and wear provocative clothing. And if the parents aren’t outright condoning that kind of behavior, they are turning a blind eye to it.

The problem is that teenagers are simply children in big bodies. They aren’t emotionally ready to engage in adult behavior. And we fail as parents if we allow them to do so. Our job is to protect our children, both physically and emotionally, and we fail miserably if we let them do things that they just aren’t ready for.

If you are raising teenagers (or are about to!), think about the following as you consider how to guide them through this challenging, but oh so important, stage in their lives.

Be Your Child’s Best Friend: You should be your child’s best friend. I’m not saying that you should stop being their parent and stop giving them rules and structure. I’m saying that you should be their confidant. If your child has an issue, you should be the first person that they want to run to. And if you aren’t, well, “Houston, we have a problem.”

If you aren’t your child’s confidant, then your child will go to a friend or sibling instead of you when they have a problem. And that is a recipe for disaster. Friends and siblings simply don’t have the wisdom and maturity of a parent.

The problem is that many parents don’t have a friendship with their kids. They don’t talk to them. However, teenagers desperately need to have a friendship with their parents.

When I think of my parenting experience so far with my daughter, I think of it as a long conversation. It is one that started from the day she was born, and it continues to today. She and I have been talking, laughing and sharing, for almost two decades now.

Admittedly, to have a friendship with your child takes some work. You have to spend one-on-one time with your child. My daughter and I share a love of books, and I can’t tell you how many long conversations that we’ve had at the Barnes & Noble cafe.

And when my daughter hasn’t felt like taking the bus to school, I’ve driven her, because cars are like truth serum for kids. Get a kid in a car with you alone, and they will spill all their problems.

But to have that kind of relationship with your child, you have to be approachable. And that means that your child needs to know that you love them, and that all your parenting decisions come from that incredible love that we as parents have for our children. Your child needs to know that no matter what they tell you, you will love them and help them.

So, work at being your child’s friend. Work to be the person that they want to come to when they have a problem. Work to be the person that your child wants to talk to about anything!

Just Say “No”: I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Your teenagers want you to say “no.” Why? Because it shows that you still care about them. It shows that your top priority is still to guide and protect them. It shows that you haven’t checked out as a parent.

Now, of course, teens will do stupid stuff, and they’ll do it behind their parents’ backs. And that bit of rebellion is normal. But you are supposed to be the gate keeper. You are supposed to be giving them some rules and structure against which they can rebel.

Importantly, saying “no” has to come from a place of deep love for your child. It can’t come from simply needing to be in power over your child. Kids easily can tell the difference between the two. “No, because that isn’t safe,” is very different from “No, because I’m Mom/Dad, and I tell you what to do.”

I know that a lot of parents have the idea that their teens are going to have sex and drink alcohol no matter what, so they may as well allow it. That is insane. Teenagers are not ready for either behavior, and you fail to protect your children if you allow them to engage in those behaviors.

There is absolutely nothing positive that comes from teen sex and underage drinking. And you need to send your children that message. They need to know that there are serious adult consequences to those kinds of adult activities. They may sneak around and do it anyway, but at least they should know mom and dad warned them that this is not a great idea.

In addition, when you tell your kids “no,” you give them a way out of uncomfortable situations. Nothing is more helpful to a teenager than to be able to say, I need to leave because “My Mom/Dad will ground me if I have sex/drink alcohol/go to a bar.”

So, just say “no.” Do it out of love. Do it to protect your children. Do it to show them that you care about them.

Adopt Their Interests: One of the best ways to connect with your teenager is to develop shared interests. When you learn about what your child is interested in, it boosts their self-esteem. It makes your child feel like he or she is an interesting person.

For example, when my daughter was in 8th grade, she decided to take up ballroom dancing. After watching her perform at an event at her studio, my husband and I decided to start taking lessons too. That completely changed the experience. Ballroom became something that we could share with her. Of course, as older people (with older bodies!), we couldn’t keep up with her, but it was still fun just to take lessons at the same studio and to “talk ballroom” in the evenings.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you take up soccer or gymnastics, simply because your child does those sports. But you can watch professionals do those sports on television with your child. And you can learn the names of all the greats in your child’s sport. There are so many ways that you can make your child’s activity a shared interest.

As another example, when I was growing up, my mother and I had a shared love of music. She was a pianist and church organist, and I studied flute and voice. We spent many nights making music together during my teen years and beyond, with her at the piano, and me either singing or playing my flute. Not only did those musical evenings make me feel closer to my mother, but they are some of my most fond memories in life.

So, find an interest to share with you child and watch it transform your relationship. When you take an interest in your child’s interests, you show your child that he or she is important to you. Moreover, you have a topic for conversation that isn’t about chores, homework or curfews!

There is no doubt that raising teenagers is work. And no one does it perfectly. But don’t give up just because it gets hard. Teenagers desperately need our love, guidance and support. If you keep working hard, your payback will be to ultimately raise wonderful adults who someday will make our world a better place.

(Photo Courtesy of Pexels)


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