Nine, ten, eleven, twelve-ahhhh, those were the years, remember? They were the ones that came after the needy, early childhood years, and collectively we coined them the “sweet spot” years, because our little ones finally grew self-sufficient, had yet to harbor any attitude, and their eyeball rolls were actually cute.
When your kids reach the teen years, things change
And then the suffix TEEN was added to their ages, and just like that things, uhh, changed, and while change can be a good thing (think teenagers that sleep in), and they’ve naturally grown to be less physically needy of our time, they become more needy with our emotions.
While your mental capacities may no longer be spent helping with things like math homework and arguments about putting toys away, during the teen years they will become completely dominated by negotiating anything and everything, and doing whatever you can to reduce any form of conflict.
But how do you do this, and where is the manual for keeping your cool? Sadly, there isn’t one, so instead we have some words of wisdom and a few mom-to-mom suggestions to help you get through the adolescent years as unscathed as humanly possible.
Tips for parenting teens
1. Your mantra for the next several years should be “stay consistent”
You’re gonna be pushed and pulled in more ways than you can imagine, but you’ve got to stay the course, and remain consistent with all your behavioral and disciplinary decisions. When you board a roller coaster, you push and pull the lap bar to make sure it doesn’t move and it holds you in. Your teens? They’re going to do the same to you, so keep that safety bar (your unwavering attitude) firm and steady.
2. Their desire for privacy doesn’t mean they don’t like you
When they start hibernating in their rooms, don’t jump to negative conclusions about anti-social behavior or bad attitudes. Teens crave solitude and down time, and science agrees that their minds and bodies need plenty of “chill down” time, as they would say.
3. The car will be their new therapy couch
You may find when it’s just you and your teen alone in the car, the vault door of pent up emotions and feelings swings wide open. There’s something about looking out the window and not at each other that seems to make teens talk, and you need to take advantage of that. Don’t push conversations at other times when they’re not ready, but instead go for a long car ride.
4. Speaking of cars
One of the biggest stressors during the teen years is teaching them to drive, and then balancing how much freedom and responsibility to give them with a car. Remember, driving and car use is a privilege, and one that they should be reminded is earned, and will remain that way. But it’s also a wonderful tool for growing their independence, so don’t be afraid of getting them driving solo. It’s going to be yours (and theirs!) first huge test of letting go, and it’s one you both need to pass, so embrace it, don’t fear it.
5. This is not debate club
There were moments early on in the teen years where I was convinced I had raised a world class litigator. Our debates never brought about a resolution, and instead just made my blood pressure spike (and made my kid slam doors), because I didn’t know any better, and assumed we’d be able to have a grown up discussion. Newsflash, you can’t have a grownup discussion when you’re the only grownup. The solution? None of my decisions as a parent ever came up for debate again. The end.
6. Keep eating together as much as you can
And there will be more opportunities for this than you can imagine because teenagers never stop eating. You can feed them food and their soul all at the same time, and they won’t even realize it. Besides, when their mouths are full, you can talk and they can’t talk back.
7. You’re gonna need to set up Internet guidelines
It’s time to set up phone/tablet/computer use guidelines, which should include all of those devices not being taken to bed with them at night, and/or consider moving computers to the center of the home in plain sight to everyone. As they mature and age, you can reevaluate their use because the majority of high school assignments are done via computer now, and their mental growth may permit them being handle to more mature content.
8. Prepaid debit cards and Venmo are the way to go
Now is the perfect time to really start drilling in their heads financial literacy concepts. You can do this by giving them the use of a prepaid debit card that can be reloaded with an allowance or chore money. Or just go straight to using money transfer apps like Venmo. (Venmo is the #1 way college aged kids swap cash, so might as well get them started now.)
9. Stop waking them up for school
If they have a smartphone then they have an alarm clock, so you can officially take the next six years off from being their personal wake-up call. If you don’t, you can look forward to four years of high school where you’re waking them up every single day, and it most definitely will involve screaming. Stop waking them up, and stop with the, “If I don’t wake them up, they won’t get up!” nonsense. Yes they can, should, and will learn to wake up on their own.
10. Learn to let go of the stuff that doesn’t matter
There will be a million little teen behavior habits that will drive you absolutely bonkers, but you’re gonna need to start thinking big picture now, or you’re going to totally lose it. For example, don’t waste these years fighting about things like a messy bedroom. It’s just not worth it because these years go by so quickly!
I wish someone would have told me to not sweat all the annoying things, but to just metaphorically hold my teen (and all his bad habits) under my wing for as long as I could because eventually, they really do LEAVE. And then you’ll be sitting alone in a perfectly clean and empty bedroom thinking, why did I ever fight about that? Now the battles you decide to let go may be different than mine, but that’s really OK…see #11
11. Get off the comparison train
We spend a great majority of raising our children comparing them in some way or another to other kids their age. For many years this is a good thing, like when it helps to monitor our child’s milestones and growth progression. But when kids hit adolescence, it is most definitely not a good thing, because a teenager’s growth, maturity, and milestones all happen at wildly different times.
Your 15-year-old may still be very shy and awkward, and need plenty of supervision and guidance, but your neighbor’s 15-year-old may have a full beard and a part-time job, and THAT IS OK! It’s also OK to parent your teen differently than your best friend parents hers, and no explanations are needed. These are the survival years, and the last thing you need is the pressure that comes from comparing you kids and their experiences with everyone else’s.
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