I’m going to spend the next two weeks talking about the parenting teens shift. No, that’s not the latest dance craze, nor is it a funny YouTube video gone viral. The parenting teen shift is the shift all us parents of teenagers have to make as we are thrust into the teen world. Over the next two weeks I’m going to share things I’ve learned from my personal experience with my own teens, my extensive time spent with the amazing teens at church, and the experience I’ve gained counseling teens and parents. Not sure if you need to make a shift? What is your answer to the following questions?
- Are you getting attitude and resistance where you used to get compliance?
- Do they challenge you and question your decisions?
- Are you confused by the emotionality of your teen?
- Wondering what’s going on in your teen’s world?
- Struggling to relate to your teen now that they are older?
- Do you find yourself frustrated and feeling unappreciated?
If you answered yes then perhaps you can benefit from shifting how you think about parenting your teen. First let me reassure you that neither you nor your teen are crazy. This stage of development is an exciting and critical one full of changes. How you parent during this critical final parenting stage (as in every stage) is important. However, the problem is that the mindset and tools you used as a parent during childhood doesn’t necessarily work in the teen years. Hence, the need for the shift.
Here are some important facts about teen development to keep in mind:
- A teen’s brain is undergoing a massive reconstruction project as it is finalizing its growth and development. This means that as your child progresses through the teen years, their brain is actively being changed. As a result, their emotions intensify and their reasoning and logic abilities improve. They’re more self-focused which magnifies problems in their world. All of this is a result of where they are in their brain growth and development.
- This is the final stage of parenting prior to adulthood.
Both of those factors impact the need for a shift as we are parenting teens. When a child is born we control everything about their lives. As they grow, we continue to provide structure, limits, and freedom based on their age and development. Eventually, they will launch into adulthood and make all their own decisions. Our job as parents during the teen years, is to balance freedom, structure, and limits so they can learn how to manage their own lives. This need for increasing freedom and increasing responsibility is what makes parenting teens so challenging. It’s the opposite of what we did when they were little.
To successfully make this shift there are some key things to remember. We’ll talk about 4 of these shifts this week and cover 4 next week.
- Relationship: Focus on building your relationship with them and not just on their behavior. They are people, with unique personalities, thoughts, opinions and emotions. Get to know them. I know you may think you know them but maybe seek to understand them differently. What is their temperament and how does that affect how they engage in the world. Appreciate their differences. What do like like, listen to, watch on YouTube or Netflix? Who are their friends? What energizes them? What are their struggles? Fears? Passions? Value their input and work to cultivate a real relationship with them. Have fun with them and laugh together. Get their input on the house rules and consequences. Be available to talk when they want to talk. Learn how to really listen to them instead of immediately telling them your thoughts on their situation. Try to identify what they are feeling and reflect it back to them. Most importantly be real with them. Let them know you have emotions, faults, and failures too.
- Control: Too much control and rules during this time in their lives is dangerous. I’m not saying you can’t have limits. In fact, your teen still needs boundaries and limits plus you need boundaries in place for your peace. What I am saying is choose them wisely. Remember, your teen is in a different brain developmental stage. In order to “wire in” confidence in their decision making ability, they need to have the freedom to make decisions. Give as much freedom and choices as you can. A very restrictive, controlled environment results in a teens questioning their decision-making ability and frequently leads to self-doubt. They need freedom and reasonable limits so they get to practice making good and bad decisions. As they get older the freedom increases and the limits decrease. Too little control is damaging as well. They are not adults yet and need limits and monitoring. The key is to choose where you exercise to control wisely and always offer limits with choices and freedom.
- Freedom: Freedom is a huge motivator for teens. They crave it and desperately want it. It helps them develop competence and confidence. Even making bad decisions helps them because unfortunately we all learn best by making mistakes. If your teen never has freedom then 1) you are missing out on a great reward and motivator 2) you will notice confidence decrease and you might see an increase in anxiety/depression because they will begin to question their ability and your belief in them. There are many ways to give freedom: giving choices, asking for their input and opinion, giving privileges, letting them own certain chores/responsibilities, and letting them manage as much life as is reasonable. They will never learn to do certain things unless given the freedom to try.
- The Power of Solving Problems with Questions: For most of their lives they have come to us when they have a problem to solve and we solve it for them. Yet now they need to be encouraged to solve their own problems. Since their brain is under construction, sometimes they are very emotional or struggle to see the solution. It’s tempting to just give them the answer, it seems so obvious sometimes to us. DON’T. Give them the opportunity to think of possible solutions. This will help them feel more confident in trusting their voice and will help their brain as it is develops. Listen, reflect their emotions, and ask “what have you thought of doing?” or “how might you solve this?” or “I know you can solve this problem, what are your ideas?” This is HARD but is very helpful and empowering for them.
Look for Part 2 when we talk about 4 more parenting shifts. I know it can be a challenge to change your default reactions with your teens. If you are struggling significantly with any of these, consider getting help from a counselor. Look for the daily joys in the journey of teen parenting….the glimpses of the unique person God created them to be. Find good healthy support. We got this parents!