When my daughter was very young, people would comment on how ‘easy’ she was as a baby and toddler and say, “Just you wait until she hits the teen years. Girls are hard work then”. I determined then that I was going to reject those words and instead I was going to enjoy the teen years, especially those early teenage years. Princess is now 13 and we are enjoying the time, not that there aren’t different challenges along the way, but so far they are pretty miniscule.
A friend was recently sharing how she was wondering what to do with her 13 year old who was in a state sporting squad and training numerous nights per week, including Friday night which was Youth Group night. This friend was sharing how she was talking to God about it, asking Him what she should do as her daughter wanted to go to Youth Group but also succeed in her sport. My friend clearly heard God say to her, “You have concentrated on her school and sport and made good decisions but I am more concerned about her soul and character than her schoolwork or her sporting success”. Thus, she immediately notified the sporting team that her daughter would no longer be attending Friday night training and instead she would be taking her to Youth Group. She believed that if God wanted her daughter to succeed in that sporting career, of which she has great potential, then He would arrange for that to occur despite missing the Friday night training sessions.
Below I have listed a number of suggestions that I am finding works well for Princess and my relationship with her. I must admit that Matey is still only 10, & this is our first teenager, but I think you would agree they make sense.
- Make your relationship with them a priority. Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t let stuff that will be unimportant in 10 year’s time cloud any issues. Invest in 1 on 1 time with your teen, both dad-teen dates and mum-teen dates. Also take responsibility for keeping the relationship and communciation excellent on a daily basis by watching your own responses and behaviour towards them.
- We don’t do moodiness in our home. It’s just not on. It never has been. It never will be. We also don’t blame ‘that time of the month’ – no excuses for moodiness. A number of mums that I chat with actually confess that they are quite moody or don’t manage anger well – how can you expect your teen to manage it well if you don’t. Get your act together now! You need to help your daughter self-manage herself in regard to getting more sleep, retiring to the bedroom to read etc before she is narky at other family members. There are no slamming doors, walking out on other people in the middle of a conversation etc. Your teenager will copy your behaviour so watch how you behave.
- Teenagers can spot hypocrisy a mile away and have no problem in communicating this to you. Watch your own behaviour and speech. It will be modelled back to you.
- Encourage life-giving relationships. Recently I was concerned that Princess was spending too much time socialising of a weekend when Hubby gently reminded me that the friend she was wanting to have a sleepover with was a great Christian friend and a fabulous influence on her, albeit only a fairly new friend. It was worth allowing her to spend the time with her and encouraging that friendship and giving permission for that activity.
- You will find what you look for. If you are looking for and saying negative stuff, you will get it. If you are looking for positive stuff in your teen, you will find it. Be careful of the words you speak – “Oh no, the teenage years. I’m dreading them” or “This is an exciting chapter that’s opening up in my teen’s life”. Which is more life giving? Remember, what you speak into the atmosphere comes true. Find as many true positive and encouraging things about your teen each day that you can.
- Get perspective on the situation. It helps to become friends with your teens friends parents if possible. These mums can usually see the great stuff in your teen when sometimes you are having a hard time spotting it, just as you see the greatness in their teen. Let’s encourage each other in our parenting and enjoy our relationship with our teens.
- Use care when speaking about how they are dressed. By all means, encourage them and help them make suitable choices and wise decisions and not flaunt their body. Sometimes, a tense moment can be avoided by choosing wisely the words we use. I was at my daughter’s friends home at the weekend just prior to a party starting and I noticed the friend was wearing a beautiful dress with these gigantic slippers on. Guests were due any minute. I just happened to comment, “Wow, those slippers are interesting. Are you wearing them today with your dress?” without any condemnation in my voice but just pure interest. The friend immediately said she had forgotten she was wearing them, laughed about it and hurried to change. The mum thanked me and said she would probably have caused a tense moment by just telling her to go and change her shoes and would then have probably faced opposition.
- Be a permission giver. Try and give as much permission as you can. Don’t sweat the small stuff. (I am learning in this area!!)
- Expect some vagueness. When the hormones start changing, vagueness may well visit for a period of time. Expect and learn to cope as it will fade. Learn to laugh, especially when common sense seems to take a holiday for awhile!!
- Responsibility must be earnt. Increase their responsibility once they show that they can handle it and are trustworthy.
- Get them serving in a voluntary capacity. They have oodles of time at their disposal and this is a crucial time for them to learn that the world doesn’t all revolve around them. They need to learn to give to others without expecting anything in return. Those times when I head down the path of how my teen can be quite self-centred, I am reminded how much she is doing in serving others on a regular basis with the children’s ministry at church (at least 6 hours per month) & she is always keen to help others when asked.
- Let them suffer consequences for their actions. If they forget their lunch, tough luck. Going hungry one day won’t kill them and they won’t forget again in a hurry. Princess swims 3 mornings a week and needs to wake up at 5.30am. Not one time in the last 2 years have we had to wake her to get up for swimming squad. It was her commitment and she is responsible for waking up and being ready to go. These years are important training times for their future in responsibility, work ethic, discipline, self management etc.
- Keep your teen in the loop re what’s happening family wise and commitments. I find that when we look at the week ahead and explain what is on when, what can’t be shifted, how we can’t be in two places at once, then we are all a lot more understanding of why we can’t go somewhere we would love to.
- Your teen needs to do chores around the home and not get paid for them. Every family member needs to put in to helping keep the family home in order and we as parents don’t get paid for doing chores. What are you communicating to your teen if they get paid for everything? I am a firm believer in teens cooking dinner one night per week. Our objective is helping them become mature and responsible adults. They need to learn to cook a variety of meals.
- Appearance becomes important. How they look, what they wear and spending oodles of time in front of a mirror become the norm. Don’t fight it. Speak into it. Speak unconditional love. Speak encouragement about the true value of your teen. Chat with them the day prior re leaving home time and help them work backwards with what time to wake up, helping them to see the bigger picture and not just themselves and their needs, and also bathroom time to suit every family member.
- Sleep needs increase. They need 12 hours per night. If they get enough sleep, it will make a huge difference with their attitude. When Princess was a toddler, I heard Steve Biddulph, an Australian parenting expert, give a talk on 12-14 year olds and he stated that their needs are like 2-4 year olds. Picture them 10 year years younger and it helps you manage their needs and emotions. Biddulph also recommends that secondary school students need one of their parents home after school for when they get home so as to debrief and receive encouragement and support and he says that he sees a disturbing trend as most couples are both absent by then with their working outside of the home.
- Surround them with great mentors. Encourage them to be involved in activities where there will be older teens, young adults and other mums and adults whom they respect and can speak into their life. They will also have positive role models to look up to and see how to base their behaviour etc. Those times when they want someone other than their own parent to talk to, they will have someone you can trust on hand.
- When they want to talk, stop and listen. Late at night or just when you need to finish that report and your teen comes in and wants to share, you need to stop then and listen. They need to see your eye contact and know you are really listening to their heart. Don’t expect them to wait, even a couple of minutes because that crucial moment when they were going to ‘open up’ will have passed.
- Keep the physical touch happening. Your teen needs physical touch from both mum and dad otherwise they will go looking for it elsewhere. Dad’s – definitely don’t stop that hug at this crucial time. They feel acceptance and are hungering for that physical contact. Please don’t deprive them of this. You may need to find ways to be more creative and appropriate with them now eg arm across the shoulders, high five’s, pedicure on each other, goodnight kiss etc. Try to spend some 1 on 1 time each night with them giving them a goodnight kiss and hug and spending time praying with them and blessing them. This will soon become indispensable to them and something they look forward to and miss when you are not home.
- Read the book, “Do Hard Things – a teenage rebellion against low expectations” by Alex & Brett Harris with your teen. This was the book that Princess and I read when she was 10 years old and prompted the ‘Books 4 Cambodia’ Project, then the resultant Mornington Peninsula Shire Young Citizen of the Year award, speaking in front of 3,000 people etc. Teenagers can do hard things. Teenagers can do great things.
- Have a lot of fun with your teen. ENJOY!!