Being a parent is one of life’s great joys and blessings from God. The children placed into our hands are a precious gift that keeps on giving. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, though. Kids can also be difficult; combine that with our own stresses and challenges as adults, and what you have are the makings of a tricky situation. Parents and caregivers need guidance, large helpings of patience and love to cope with the realities of taking care of a child. And just when you think you may have figured it out, that child goes on to grow up and become a teenager, and parenting teenagers is a whole different ballgame.
Practical Tips for Parenting Teenagers
Whether you’ve raised a child from birth or begun parenting them when they are a teenager, it’s helpful to know how to guide these young humans and parent them well. Below are a few tips to help you as you reflect on parenting teenagers.
The times, they are a-changing.
Your child’s transition into being a teenager may have happened gradually or it may feel rather abrupt. Whether the years flew right by, and you were caught unprepared or not, your child becoming a teenager means that changes are coming. With hormonal and other physical changes afoot, along with some shifts in how they interact with their peers, they’re the same kids, except they’re not.
While they may have been aware of their peers, being a teenager takes that peer and self-awareness and ramps it up to eleven. Between the hormones, changing bodies, the peer pressure, the FOMO, the beginning of dating relationships, things are changing. As the times and your child change, you must become open to those changes and be willing to try new things in this season of life.
Some children are late bloomers, while others start developing early, and still others stick to the average expectations for development. As no two teens are the same in terms of when the physiological and psychological changes occur, you’ll have to keep an eye on your child.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Your teen may become a bit more withdrawn from you as they get absorbed in school, friends, sport, and their own lives. Hang in there and keep creating opportunities to engage with them.Let them help you with making dinner. Keeping up those meals together at the table and having a family game night remain good ideas. Staying connected with your teen by talking with and listening to them helps to show them that you care for them and value their opinions.
Talking early and often with your child about everything makes things easier in later years. Kids have questions and answering these early on is better than trying to tackle the big questions about periods or wet dreams when they come up in the teenage years. While it’s better to talk with your kids when they’re younger, it’s possible to do so when they’re older, it’s just a bit harder to do.
Keep the lines of communication open and be willing to talk openly (and early) about subjects such as sex, drugs, and alcohol use. These and other issues are things teens face or are curious about, and your guidance and wisdom are needed so they don’t end up acting irresponsibly and experimenting with risky behavior when the time comes.
Give them room.
The thing with teens is that they aren’t young children anymore, but they aren’t yet adults either. Most teens want to have more freedom and responsibility, but they typically don’t have the wisdom to have both in abundance at this stage in their lives. Give them room, but also take steps to protect them.
This is a delicate balancing act. You won’t always get it right but trust your gut. Your teen may want privacy, but that privacy must be balanced against being safe online and in person. They can have access to streaming services and the internet, but boundaries can be set around what they watch and the sorts of websites they can access.
While they may have their own phone, and you generally keep out of their texts and emails because you trust them – if they act secretively or become evasive about their behavior, you may need to intervene. While you want them to use and enjoy their freedom and privacy responsibly, a good compromise is for them to keep you informed of the Five W’s – Who, When, Where, What, and Why.That way, they may have their privacy and feel free to move about, but they keep you informed about who they are with, where they are going, and when they will be coming back. In this way there is accountability, plus the parents can have some peace of mind knowing at least the broad details of what’s going on.
Additionally, if you know the parents of your children’s friends, that also helps you to form a support network, or at least to know the potential influences your child may be exposed to when they hang out at their friend’s house.
The world is changing at a rapid pace. While many of the same things you went through as a teen may be true for your teen now, enough has shifted in our culture that staying informed about things matters even more now.
The presence of the internet and mobile devices, to name a few changes, mean that how people relate to one another and the kinds of information they have in their hands at the touch of a button is a different ball game from growing up in the 1990s and before. It may be a lot to digest (and there’s always more to learn), but take the time to know what’s out there, the kinds of games kids are playing, or the apps they’re on.
Understanding what’s out there can help you to walk them through it safely. Read books and reputable blogs about teens to keep you updated on the struggles teens face today, as well as some of the trends out there. Ask your kids questions, too. It’s probably impossible to stay up to date with everything out there but having a broad grasp of what’s going on in the world of teenagers may also provide you with opportunities to talk to your children and help them to make wise choices.
You’re the parent – set boundaries and expectations.
This may need to be reiterated, as it may be easier to avoid butting heads by stepping back and letting your teen find their own way – you are the parent, and as such, the authority figure. As their parent, it’s up to you to set and maintain boundaries and to be there for them when they fall. They’re finding themselves, and as with earlier stages of development, sometimes your teen will test your boundaries, authority, and patience.But you must set the expectations for behavior so that they know what is and is not okay to do. Your boundaries should be clear and reasonable, considering your child’s level of responsibility. Those boundaries should also be flexible so that as your child shows that they are responsible, restrictions can be loosened, but if they prove themselves to be unreliable, they can be tightened accordingly.
As you set your boundaries and expectations for behavior, try to avoid ultimatums, as your teen may try and test your resolve, which may not end well. Explaining your decisions helps them to see your concerns as well as treating them with respect as reasoning beings. When you set a boundary, you must have clear consequences set out for what happens if they are not respected and follow through with the stated discipline.
Part of being flexible with your children is to have the wisdom to pick your battles well. Not everything is an occasion for a fight, and sometimes you must let some things go and keep your eyes on the bigger picture.
Be a good example.
Children learn much of their behavior from their parents. When your children are older, they continue to learn from you, both the good and the unhealthy habits, and they become more aware of inconsistencies between what you say and do.
In their teenage years (as always), be a good role model for them about how to handle stress, pressure, and emotions such as anger. By modeling to them what it looks like to deal with life as an adult, you provide them with an example to emulate.
Be present for your teen.
In many situations, teens deal with some heavy things such as academic and peer pressure, bullying, mental health challenges like depression and anxiety, losing friends, and so on. These and many other issues will affect their mental, emotional, and physical health.
Keep an ear and eye out for signs that things are not well, such as declining grades, significant weight loss, and weight gain, talking or joking about suicide, harming themselves, withdrawing from activities and people they enjoyed, and so on. Sometimes a child will reach out and ask for help, but in other cases, you’ll have to figure out what’s going on. Either way, be present for your teen, walk alongside them and be available to help.
Christian Counseling for Teens and Families
If you’re looking for counseling for your teenager, yourself, or your family, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory. Christian counseling can be a wonderful way to strengthen relationships, solve problems, and learn to live together in a healthy, God-honoring way.
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