Surviving Teenagers! How Parents Can Influence their Kids in the Teen Years
I remember the days when my kids were little and their world consisted of our home, our family, and NickJr; and in the center of their world was their father and I. Everything they did revolved around us. Those days were fun, crazy, stressful, frustrating, and well… long gone. Now we’re well into our teen years where their world has been expanded to include their friends, cell phones, Facebook, and who knows what else. My influence as a parent has gradually decreased throughout the years. What happened to the days when my opinion mattered more than anyone else’s?
As my kids have gotten older, my husband and I have come to realize that parenting doesn’t get any easier. We’ve done our best to instill values and wisdom into their little minds; now it’s time for them to start making some decisions on their own, and for us to slowly start to release our reigns of control. For this to happen, my teenagers have to earn the trust I give. At this age, it’s normal for them to try to push their limits, so it’s important for me to make sure the boundaries are set… and kept. When those boundaries are crossed, they lose trust and certain amount of control. It’s a give and take game that constantly keeps me on my toes.
Surviving the teen years as a parent is challenging to say the least. I want to believe the best about them, their lives, their intentions, and their actions. I want to think that they have taken the parenting we’ve given throughout their childhood to heart. While I want these things, I have to understand that they are fully capable of misleading us. Parenting requires that I find out when that happens so that their behavior can be corrected.
My teenagers are constantly amazed at my ability. I’ve told them time and time again that if they do anything wrong, I will find out about. If I find out about it from anyone else, there will be severe consequences. It’s always better for them to tell me themselves. While they know this in their minds, they never seem to believe it in their hearts. Even though I always find out, they still try to get away with it. While my ways may be a mystery to them, I will gladly share them with you. I’m convinced that we need each other to survive as parents during these teen years.
- Talk to them. This comes easier for some parents than others. This comes easier with some kids than others. Whether it’s easy or not, it’s imperative. So talk to them. Get to know what their interests are, what’s going on at school, how they feel about life and the world around them. I’ve known parents that have skipped this step altogether. They really miss out on getting to know their children and being a part of their lives. I’ve also known parents who rely on this step as their sole method. They live in denial. Teenagers are well practiced in the art of lying. They’ve been doing it since they were chocolate-faced toddlers denying eating any of the cake. Talking is only the starting point.
- Talk to their friends. It’s true though that if your kids are lying, then their friends are lying for them. They have a pact, an unwritten code that cannot be broken. It’s important though for their friends to know our expectations. The good ones will understand those boundaries and help my kids maintain them. The not-so-good ones will do everything in their power to convince them go against our family values. Those are the friends to watch. Those are the friends who have limitations. However, since it’s not always clear which friends fall in which category, it’s crucial to keep your eyes and ears open for trouble.
- Get to know their friends’ families. Understanding what goes on in the homes of others will help you to gain a better idea of where they are coming from. Use families with similar values as yours as resources. Compare notes and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. Make a special effort with the friends who come from different backgrounds or troubled homes. They may really need the love and stability that you have to offer. You could be the one to make a difference in their life. You could be the one that they come to for advice.
- Keep an eye on Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook, get one. Social networks provide a wealth of information to parents about their own kids and the kids they associate with. My teens know that being my Facebook friend is not an option and that I carefully monitor their pages, their photos, and their friends. I add their friends that they hang out with the most. This helps me get to know a little more about them and their interests. Even seeing the pages that their friends “like” tells me a lot about them. While I’ve learned a lot by using Facebook, I’ve also made some mistakes. I plan to write about the do’s and don’ts with Facebook, Family, and Friends in my next hub.
- Remember that privacy is a privilege, not a right. If I’m paying for the cell phone, if they aren’t paying rent, everything that is theirs is truly mine. Searching rooms or reading text messages should only be done in extreme circumstances. They need to trust me as much as I need to trust them. However, if you have reason to suspect that something is going on, by all means, you have the right to go through their room, their backpack, their cell phones, and their internet history, and you should not have to apologize for that.
- Understand that they still need you to be their parent, not their friend. They have plenty of friends, but only you can be their parent. They need the structure and the boundaries that you provide. Even though they are getting closer and closer to being adults, they still need your help to navigate through these tough years. While they still need your unconditional love when things get tough, they also need your discipline when trust is lost.
- Talk to your kids. This is the first step, but it’s also the last. Everything should start and end with this. Even if your teens don’t think you’re cool enough or would rather be playing video games or watching TV, make the effort to talk to them. Turn off the noise at home and simply hang out and talk. Let them know that through thick or thin, you will always be there for them. Tell them you love them and that you always will.
Eventually we’ll get through these times, just as we did the toddler years. Watching them enter the adult world will no doubt be a bittersweet accomplishment. Someday, I’ll look back on these teen years with the nostalgia that I feel for the preschool days. Until then, I intend to enjoy the good times and learn from the bad. Parenting isn’t an easy job, but it can be a rewarding one.
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