Friday, March 16, 2018

Preparing to Parent Teens in Today's Culture

Suddenly I find myself approaching the next stage in parenting: the teen years. I enjoy teenagers and spent five years getting a degree so that I could teach them science (biology in particular). However, there is fear which comes from the fact that I remember myself during those years. I was a hard-working student, had a part time job throughout high school and was quite responsible overall but I still had an "experimental" side to me and I didn't have to deal with the whole social media aspect that kids nowadays do.

Preteens hanging out by the river

In order to help fill my parenting "toolbox" with skills and resources I read Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not to Get Blindsided by Your Child's Teen Years. It is written by Mark Gregston who is the founder of Heartlight which is a residential counseling center for teens. Here are some tidbits that I gleaned from the book:

Consider what your priorities in parenting are. 

What are the things that you want out of your relationship? What is your greatest hope for you children? These are some of mine:
  • openness between us (connection/respect).
  • empathy, compassion, willingness to learn, hard-working, appreciation.
  • a desire to figure out their faith for themselves; I don't want them to just take what we've said. 

Recognize that today's culture has shifted.
  • parents are well-meaning but often try to protect their kids rather than spend time preparing them. Have you talked to them about pornography and the dangers of social media
  • teens are bombarded by images and appearance has become an even greater priority. I am glad I was not raised in this time; I can't imagine the pressure with posting photos and getting likes and not equating it with how pretty you may or may not be. 
  • hours with screen time are less hours of face-to-face connection and developing social skills. Some teens spend ten hours a day in front of screens (including computer for school). I know I was allowed one hour per day of TV and I didn't have the Internet until I was 18 – times have really changed.

You can't force authority.

You can't force your teenager to do anything but can teach respect for authority through relationship. A big one for me is to watch out for judgment. It's relationship, relationship, relationship.

"Truth with judgment pushes kids away; truth with relationship draws them to you." – Mark Gregston. 

I am full of "teachable moments" which can definitely come across as critical. My sisters may have called me "bossy" a time or two. Our kids have two teachers as parents which is a double whammy of wanting to impart our wisdom at all times. Be sure to share your own shortcomings and struggles so they know that everyone has them. Listen rather than teach. I often go for a walk with my oldest who is almost 12 years old and he opens up a lot at those times. I am so tempted to bring in my point of view when I hear how he struggles with group projects (don't be so bossy, Buddy) or how he's the leading scorer in hockey (hey Bud, no one loves a bragger) and just try to listen and empathize.

Conflict happens but it will deepen relationships. I think of when Gary and I go through a difficult marital conversation, we end up with more depth in the end when we are willing to work through it. Your love is unconditional and not just there when they are behaving as you would like. Grace.

Another quote Gregston shares is:

"...consequences teach lessons; relationships change the heart." 

When I did something that disappointed my parents because I broke their trust was a big enough punishment for me. Being grounded and having to write an apology letter were secondary.

Let go of some of the control.

Kids want to feel like they have some control, can make their own decisions and can prove their maturity. I did not like Kai's long hair but he did. I let it go. And finally, he said "cut it". Phew. This is often the hardest with the oldest. Let them go to the park with the neighbour boy, finish their homework without checking, make their own snacks, do their chores without correcting and pick their own clothes. Trust that you've done your job, and if coming from a faith perspective, trust that God is involved, too. Give them more responsibilities. When I was sixteen, my parents said no to camping off the logging road with friends so I went and lied about where we were (sorry, Dad!). Had something happened, they would have no idea where I really was.

Have clear boundaries & pick your battles.

I have a wild child. This does not mean that I am not a good parent as I can only do so much. Hopefully as his brain continues to develop he will make wiser decisions. Clear boundaries and their consequences are helpful and he recommends having ten rules. I have done this before with younger kids as you can see here.

Some of our rules now:
  • Use kinds words or none at all.
  • Respect parents and siblings 
  • Tell the truth
  • Exhibit appropriate Internet activity (only on approved sites)
What are their consequences? Usually each small infraction (because believe me they are far from perfect) is ten minutes off their 45 minutes of iPad time. You will have to utilize what is important to your own kids. We don't have big rules right now but the consequences will be much larger once they are driving and able to go out with friends.

In high school my mom said that I could only have piercings in my ear so I stuck to it and went wild – I think I had a total of ten. She said no to tattoos and I'm glad because I would have chosen something I later regretted. Those were the battles she was willing to pick and looking back I'm glad that she did.

Determine privileges and expectations.

From driving to cell phones to curfew and church attendance – what are your expectations? Gregston recommends that if there is something you plan to give your kids, do it a bit earlier.  One experience with this recently is that we had said only G or PG movies. Kai (almost 12) was invited to a movie that was PG-13. My "go to" was that I was not allowed PG-13 until I was in grade nine. When I thought back to how I felt about it, it was so frustrating. We gave him the go ahead after looking up the particular movie and what gave it that rating.

Where does your child sit in your list of priorities based on where you put your time and energy?

I'm assuming that if you're like me, they are towards the very top in regards to priority but not always where we invest the most time and energy. At this point I'm really looking forward to parenting teenagers and just hoping that my kids continue to enjoy spending time with me.

In conclusion, the book offers great conversation starters if you are looking for ideas.

Sample questions to ask:

What are some of your greatest fears for school next year?
How do you think life will change when you are older?
If you could change something about yourself what would it be?
What should be the expectations in our home?

To all those who are parenting teenagers already, fill me in on the reality of it all! 


How can we prepare ourselves and our children for the upcoming teenage stage? What is most important as we move forward?

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