By Clare Jordan
As of this month, we are now home to four teenagers, and life is good – really!
Admittedly, my parenting technique is mostly trial and error, but some of it may be share-worthy. The following is a list of tips I would have liked to have known before developing them myself. I hope there are a few gems here that may save some new parent of teens or tweens a headache or two.
- One Rule – I’ve only ever had one rule for all the kids in our house (whether residents or visitors) – you must BE KIND. If everyone followed this one rule we would all be better off!
- Self-fulfilling Prophesy – Do not speak ill of the teenage years lest your predictions of poor behavior come true. I always say that our kids just keep getting better the longer we know them, and they tend to live into this belief and prove it true; just as they would (I believe) if I were to expect less of them and share that view verbally.
- Befriend the Friend – Teenagers talk – often more to their friends than to you. Be the kind of parent their friends want to be around and you will know more about what is happening in your teen’s life. Do this by opening yourself up to their conversations as you drive carpools, or by offering to host the occasional just-for-fun gathering at your house. Ask questions, and your teen’s friends will appreciate the attention and may talk more to you than your own teen.
- Be Specific – Don’t ever ask, “How was your day?” Questions like that bore teens and invite one-word, grunted responses. After an event ask, “Who was there?” and “What did you talk about?” – then ask specific follow-up questions that lead to meaningful and interesting conversation.
- Expectations – Set the bar high, and allow room for failure, but make those expectations clear. Make time to actually sit down and talk about words and behaviors that are and are not part of your family’s culture. We have established a culture based on what we termed together “Respectful Living” at our house. It helps to define your expectations clearly, and make it something you all understand and agree to live by.
- Clear & Logical Consequences – Rather than always falling back on the same tired punishments for teens (many that are used to no effect), we try and make the consequence fit the crime. Step away from a tough situation and discuss outcomes with a partner or friend, then state it clearly and simply to your teen so everyone understands what is happening and why. Knowing a potential consequence before a poor decision is made is helpful too – I told our kids if anyone ever rolls our yard, they are cleaning it up (this prevents their interest in rolling someone else’s yard).
- One-on-One Time – Do whatever it takes to find occasional time with each child individually. I offer “Mommy Dates” when needed, and they vary for each child. These are critical touch points that happen over Shirley Temples at a favorite restaurant bar, a special shopping outing, or playing mini golf. Conversations flow that wouldn’t otherwise (just as often happens when you’re in the car with a teen on your own). I also try and take a trip with each teen during their high school years.
- Journal – Journaling helps me and can be great for some kids who would rather write than speak sometimes. We’ve even kept a back-and-forth journal going over several years where we can write to each other (or to the journal) on our own at any time and pass the book as needed.
- Choices – Teens need some control. I’ve elected to let them choose the music in my car (most of the time). Letting them make some choices (even if they aren’t the choices we would make), gives them some power, and helps lead to more independence to come.
- Work Hard, Play Hard – It’s simple – model this and so will your teen. Good work is rewarded.
No one has all the answers, and the answers can be different for every relationship; but these are a few that served me well, and I hope there is something here that will make someone else’s teen parenting years a little better as well.