I know the rules. Don’t be your teenager’s friend, set limits, and be vigilant. These make good sense, yet I’m often confused by them. In my house, these rules are more fluid. Parenting teens is like being a project manager juggling schedules and supplies, while taking on the role of an older, more responsible roommate. They know I’m in charge because I pay the bills. They also know that I expect them to be independent, and their thoughts matter to me.
The biggest takeaway I’ve learned from parenting teens is not to take it personally. The second is to be physically present, but not at their beck and call. When my teens walk through the front door directly into their bedrooms, then I don’t follow and badger them. I expect respect but provide space. When they are working on schoolwork, then it’s their job to figure it out.
Last week, I emerged from my office to find my 14-year-old daughter coping fairly well with frustration over non-working technology.
She created this amazing image on her laptop. A brightly colored and detailed action figure to compliment her science poster. Her laptop wouldn’t connect to the printer and her app wouldn’t send the image from her laptop to iPad. She found a workaround by taking a screenshot, then cropping and resizing the image. After hitting print, then she got a two-inch image when she needed a full page picture.
We spent a lot of time laughing, while I directed her to touch the printer buttons and see if she could resize it on there. When our efforts failed, then she stayed up late to hand draw her image.
Both of our eyes were blurry when she showed me the poster in the morning. It wasn’t until many hours later that I realized how proud I was of her for getting through it without interrupting my work time or being upset.
I always hear these horror stories about teens and how tough it is. Sure, I feel frustration and yell because I’m tired and they forgot to feed the dogs or left without taking out the garbage. But more often than not, I’m impressed by their resilience and independence.
If you’re nervous about heading into the preteen and teenage years, don’t be. Instead, remember these few things:
Togetherness is a thing.
Yep, we may all be on our devices, but we are together. I’ll send screenshots of funny memes or random tweets, adding “thought of you” or “sounds like you.” My daughter brings me her iPad to show me her latest app creation or sim family. I sit in my son’s room and watch YouTube videos.
We may end up on opposite sides of the house or yard, but we meet up in the kitchen and chat about whatever comes up. Taking the time to interact is vital, but don’t force it. Teens need space. Find times for natural communicating that works well for both of you.
Don’t be afraid to chat.
Around here nothing is taboo, and every topic is up for discussion. We cover headlines and talk about what their friends are saying or posting. This may mean I call out my son for a meme he posted on Facebook. I know they are still kids, yet I’ve also never forgotten my teenage years, where I pondered all sorts of questions, had grown-up ideas, and ultimately developed into the core of me. Any opinion is valid. My theory is that once you show or express that opinion in some way, then you should expect challenges. I often take a deep breath, hold back my words, and simply say, “I understand.”
Don’t take it personally.
When my teen daughter is short with me or my son holes up in his room, I know their words and actions are not directed at me. Sure, sometimes I’ll snap and call out, that “I don’t care what’s going on, there’s no reason to be rude,” but I choose my battles. I give them time alone, then venture into their rooms after a bit. I ask them questions like,” what’d you have for lunch today” or “did the day seem really long to you, because it was for me.” I might offer to grab them a bottle of water or share a snack I carried in. Then I sit down and listen to what their voices and body language are telling me.
We all have responsibilities.
I’ve taught them that there are certain things that all humans share. Life and death. Jobs, education, or purpose, and maintenance of their lives. They go to school, I go to work. It’s not an option. It’s necessary. Everyone pitches in to help keep the household running. After all, in a few short years, they will need good habits, like picking up after themselves and certain skills, like knowing how to fix a clogged toilet, cook a meal, or use the washing machine. I’m not a dictator enforcing laws, instead, I delegate responsibilities, hold up my end of the bargain, and expect them to do the same.
Be a parent who is present.
As much as possible, I’m available every day when they wake up and around when they go to bed. I keep meals and snacks stocked (and that’s hard with teens!). I sign papers and transfer schedules to my calendar. I am reliable but I’m also scatterbrained. I don’t always know today’s date or who is picking them up from school. But I’m here, and I’m trying. I apologize when I make mistakes. They know I’m not perfect, but I’m present.
Parenting teens means awareness over all today’s dangers. It also means understanding a teen’s need for autonomy and knowing how to balance your knowledge of both. I spend less time criticizing and giving ultimatums, and more time expressing my understanding. By taking less of an authoritative role, and more of a project manager and responsible friend, I’ve developed a good relationship with my teens and consider these some of the best years of our lives.
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Jessica Elliott is a freelance writer and mom to three children, three dogs, and several cats and fish. She lives on an acre in the Midwest and has been published in Scary Mommy, Parent Co, and Yellowbrick. Connect with Jessica on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest as well as her blog.