Raising Successful Teenagers

Let’s face it. Adolescence is a tough time. Our kids aren’t quite adults, yet neither are they the little children they once were. As they struggle to fit in at this age and discover whom they truly are, the potential to fall under the influence of others is very strong. If the kids fall under the influence of a dangerous crowd, they are more likely to try dangerous things in order to fit in. No one wants to be viewed as a “wimp,” a “wuss,” a “pansy” or whatever other cruel names kids have for each other from generation to generation. The following are some tips to help your children avoid falling into the bullying trap while becoming responsible, well-adjusted citizens.

1. Talk to your kids. Find out what is going on in their lives. What makes them happy? What makes them sad, angry or excited? What are their goals and how can you help them achieve those goals? By taking an active interest in their lives, they not only know you care, which is crucial, but also that they are less likely to get away with being bullies themselves, because you’ll find out about it.

2. Set limits and establish clear consequences for conduct that falls outside of those limits. Most parents have experienced the temper tantrums that setting limits and enforcing consequences brings. We’ve been told our children “hate” us, that we’re “unfair” and that we “don’t understand.” Our children seem to forget that we were once children too. We had to endure peer pressure and the normal highs and lows of teenage life. While the world is always evolving, the problems that our children face, at their core, are the same problems we faced as teenagers. They may look different in the age of technology but they have the same fundamental roots. Setting limits is a good way of telling your children that you care about them. Basic limits include:

a. Establish a curfew

b. Know who they are with

c. Know where they are going

d. No underage drinking

e. No smoking

f. No drugs

g. Establish set hours for internet usage

h. Use spyware and blocking software to block potentially harmful internet sites such as pornographic or violent sites

i. Know your child’s password to their social networking and email sites

j. Keep the computer in a family room and insist on usage in the public area

k. No driving with anyone that hasn’t had their license for at least 6 months

l. No dating until parents have met the boy/ girl friend (and approve)

m. Chores and homework before computers or tv

3. Pay attention to behaviors. Do your kids isolate themselves more than usual? Have they stopped hanging around with the usual crowd? Have they started dressing differently, bathing and grooming less frequently? Do they seem angry or depressed? Has your once talkative teenager suddenly stopped talking to you? It is critical to know the difference between what is normal teenage behavior and what might be signaling a problem. If you notice inexplicable changes and your teen won’t share, do a little digging. Talk to a counselor, a pastor, teachers, friends and others.

4. Attend Parent/ Teacher Conferences. There is no better way to find out how your child is really doing in school than to talk with the teachers. When conferences are scheduled, plan to attend. If you cannot, make alternative arrangements. A report card may tell you how your child is performing intellectually. But how they engage in classroom discussions, relate to their peers and handle complex situations and tasks is something that only a face to face meeting with the teacher will reveal. The teacher’s perspective is crucial to understanding how your child functions outside of the home in the place where they spend most of their waking hours.

5. Latitude is an earned privilege. Teens need to be rewarded for responsible behaviors such as making good grades, completing their chores, engaging as a responsible community citizen, being kind and patient with siblings, etc. This might mean an extra allowance, or it might mean that they can go to a party they’ve been wanting to go to or they can borrow the car. Whatever you decide, make sure that they understand the connection between good performance or behaviors and the privilege you are extending.

6. Negative behaviors have consequences. While good behaviors may gain them privileges, negative behaviors have the opposite effect. If you make it clear that negativity will be met with consequences, be sure to follow through, otherwise your credibility is lost and negative behaviors are reinforced.


7. Lead by example. The way you react to circumstance and the manner in which you treat others will most often be replicated by your children. Try to lead by example. That is not easy. I fail miserably sometimes. We all do. But we can use our stumblings as opportunities to teach our children about what it means to be human and how we can improve upon our behaviors in the future. No one is perfect. To strive for perfection is meaningless. But always strive to be the best you can be.

8. Behavior at home might be an indicator of behaviors at large. If your teenager is acting out toward their siblings, calling them names, excluding them, picking fights (physical or verbal), or stealing from them it is not far-fetched to think that this type of behavior might also be easily translated to how they treat others outside the home. This type of behavior might also be an indicator about how your teen may be being treated by others outside the home. Sometimes teens who are bullied become bullies in turn, toward the persons that they are closest to. They do not have the strength to act out against their tormentors, so they seek someone younger, weaker and against someone whom they think it might be more easy to get away with.

9. Spend quality time with your family. Establish weekend get-aways, buy tickets to movies, sporting events or live theater or concerts and take the whole family. This is not meant to suck up a teenagers entire social life, but rather to supplement it. Create a family atmosphere that is positive and fun and that your teen wants to be a part of. If they have a close friend, allow that person to tag along. Not every time, but once in a while. These family outings should include both parents when that is applicable or possible.

10. Try to eat dinner together as a family as often as possible. Sitting around the family table, talking and hearing about each others’ day is a great way to show interest and learn what is going on in your kids’ lives.

11. Support and promote your child’s interests. What does your child like to do? Are they interested in music, sports, art, dance, writing or other hobbies? Think about how you respond to their interests. Are you supportive? Do you attend their soccer games and swim meets even if it means getting off work early once in awhile or getting up early on Saturday? The level of interest you show in your child’s hobbies and talents will translate into whether or not their interest is sustained. We know that the majority of people never become professional athletes, musicians or artists yet that does NOT mean that our children can’t be among those blessed few. Why squash the dream? Be encouraging and supportive.

12. Count your blessings. There are plenty of families who are far less fortunate than your own. Talk about what you are grateful for. This is great dinner table conversation or a great exercise right before bed. Try to get your kids to name one thing from each day that either happened to them, that they felt or witnessed for which they are grateful.

13. Figure out why kids are bullies. When your child tells you about someone who treats others disrespectfully or bullies others, it presents you with a great opportunity to ask your child why they think that is. What might be going on in the life of the bully that makes them act out? Is there anything your child can do to help? For example, the kid who bullies smart kids because he is struggling with his own ability in math class might appreciate the tutoring of your child. The kid who bullies others for their lunch because his parents can’t afford to pack him a lunch may appreciate your child offering to share. This presents the lesson about how one good turn deserves another. While these may seem like simplistic examples, they illustrate a strong point.

14. Kindness is contagious. Pass it on. Including the “outcasts” in your social circle is very hard for kids to do. Everyone dreams of associating with the popular crowd, but no one wants to be seen with the “losers.” Teaching your kids that no one should be viewed as a “loser,” and that every person is of infinite worth is a very important life lesson. Our differences are what make us unique and special. If everyone were the same, there would be no diversity. We would live in a bland, colorless, vanilla world. Imagine how awful it would feel to be the new kid or the one that everyone else thinks is “weird.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be included instead of ostracized? If your child can answer “yes” to those questions, they’ll know what to do next. And you can support them. Offer to have them invite the new kid to dinner at your house. Invite the new kid to your next party. Send them a birthday or holiday card. If you take the first step, it will be easier to for others to follow along. My daughter goes to school with a boy that everyone thinks is “weird.” They exclude him, ignore him and poke fun at him. Except for my daughter. When the others tease, she defends him. She has included him in her parties. She talks to him at school. And NO ONE has excluded her or taunted her for being nice. As a matter of fact, her friends respect her integrity. Kindness is contagious! Pass it on!

15. Identify trusted adults to confide in. In every walk of life there should be one person that your child feels they can confide in. Help your child identify those persons and encourage them to talk with them any time they need guidance. Such people may include parents, grandparents, other trusted relatives, godparents, clergy, guidance counselors, teachers, principal, police officers, or others. When a child is being bullied or undergoing extreme peer pressure, encourage them to seek out one of these trusted adults to confide in and to seek counsel. It would be ideal if that person could always be you, but teenagers are complex and scared much of the time. Better that they feel comfortable with someone than with no one.

16. Let children learn from their mistakes. Some mistakes are huge. Some are not so big. Either way, mistakes provide great learning opportunities. Instead of pointing out the obvious lessons from each mistake, ask your child what lessons they have taken away from their experiences. This allows them to reflect and come up with answers on their own, which is great preparation for the successful transition into adulthood.

17. Trust your gut. If you feel something is wrong with your teenager or their relationships, it just might be. If your gut tells you that something has changed or is troubling your child, ask questions, investigate, and provide support and counsel.

18. Try not to judge. The best way to alienate your teen is to pass judgment. Sometimes they just want us to listen. Sometimes they want our advice. But they never want to be made to feel stupid, childish or wrong. Our reactions to their reaching out will determine if, when and how they ever do it again. Be calm. Reflect on your answers before giving them. Admit when you don’t know the answer. Pledge your support.

19. I love you no matter what. At times, our children will lash out at us with the cliché, “I hate you!” Sometimes the feeling is mutual. On both sides, we know that this emotion isn’t really true, but we all get frustrated from time to time. While a teenager is expected to drop the “H” bomb once in a while, the best retort we can offer is, “Well, I still love you. I always will. When you’re ready to forgive me, I’m still here if you need me.”

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© 2010 Jaynie2000

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