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Parenting of Adolescents
Parents of Teenagers Face Challenges
Parenting adolescents is by far one of the most challenging, and most rewarding, things I have ever done in my entire life! I speak from the viewpoint of a single mom with three teens in mid to late adolescence. Distance, schedules, and finances make personal visits with their paternal families nearly impossible, but we manage to squeeze in visits here and there. They compliment that with phone calls, internet contact, and good ole snail mail, along with the knowledge that circumstances may change as they get older and are more responsible for their own time and finances, which could allow for more frequent personal contact with the "other side".
In the meantime, we go at it pretty much alone. I will be the first to tell you that there have been some incredibly rough times. I have made many, many mistakes as a result of being human, and I make sure to sincerely apologize to my kids when I do. This has taught them that it is ok to make mistakes, and that there is an expectation, an obligation, to make it right when they mess up. I believe that this basic practice of human courtesy has laid the foundation for us to participate in easy, effective methods to bond as a family and survive the challenge of parenting (and being) adolescents!
#1: Have Some Fun!
It is important to have some fun because being an adolescent, or parent of an adolescent, can be incredibly stressful. For adolescents, getting used to all the changes their bodies are going through can be overwhelming. For parents, getting used to all the changes their adolescent is going through can be overwhelming. Having fun will help relieve some of the stress that naturally occurs during this intense period of change.
Keep in mind that it is important for the parent and the adolescent to have fun TOGETHER to relieve some of the growing pains and create some of what the late Dr. Covey calls "production capability" in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I also believe it is important for the fun activity to be one that the adolescent chooses. Offering choices to maintain some form of order or boundaries is fine, but make sure they are choices that both you and your adolescent can live with without causing more stress.
Also, keep in mind, that as a parent, you may have to stretch, and stretch, and stretch some more to have fun doing whatever it is that your adolescent wants to do. Do it anyway. Do it to the best of your ability. Dedicate and focus your time to having fun doing the activity that your adolescent has chosen. If you aren't able to actually have fun, at least participate until you can understand why it may be a fun activity to others.
It is also important for both you and your adolescent to have fun with others in your own peer groups. It is not always easy to accomplish this all at the same time, but it helps if your adolescent takes up a hobby, activity, or sport. That way, it is both a way to have fun together and with your own peer groups at the same time.
For instance, all of my kids have participated in sports activities. I always try to meet as many of the parents as I can during practice and games, and we end up talking, laughing, and sharing stories about raising kids and the good old days. When we set an example by getting along and having fun as parents, I believe it helps the kids to get along and have fun as a team and/or group.
Which of the following statements best describes your family?
#2: Say "I Love You"
I believe that this is possibly the single most important thing you can do for your adolescent...let them know that you love them. Say it to each one of your adolescents at least once a day, every single day. No excuses. Say it verbally, and then say it even more non-verbally.
I get a "Bye, mom. Love you!" every single day before my kids walk out the door. They get a "Love you more" or "Love you, too!" right back. We say love you before we go to sleep (we are all on various bed times according to our schedules). We say love you at random times throughout the day for no reason at all. Occasionally, we will send a random love you text during the day just because.
Hugging is a good way to show affection. We are all weird about mouth germs so we do cheek and air kisses, but random hugs are just about as common in our house as random "I love yous" are. Love pats or occasional back rubs are also good ways to non-verbally express affection. "This Little Piggy" (the adolescent version that is made up on a whim and changes from time to time) is still occasionally played with my adolescents if we are feeling particularly silly.
As a parent, overlooking a messy room (as long as their grades and attitudes are ok) speaks "I love you" like no other, but I'm not sure it's a language they completely understand. It's more like a right they think they have. Sometimes, when their teenage rooms are just more mess than I can take, I will ask them if there is anything I can do to help them clean it up. I usually get stuck with hanging up shirts and picking up trash, but is seems to be enough to let them know I care, and it seems to give them the motivation to get the rest of it cleaned up without prompting.
I also take advantage of different holidays to let them know how blessed I am for the joy they bring into my life. On Thanksgiving, I let them know how thankful I am for their cooperation and growth. I use Valentine's day and Christmas as learning opportunities to show them how to love others by giving gifts and service to others. Additionally, I usually take them to dinner or make them a special dinner and/or dessert. We don't necessarily have any steadfast traditions that accompany these holidays, but we use this opportunity to "catch up" with each other and spend some quality family time.
On birthdays, friends and family are welcome to give gifts to the kids, but I don't personally buy them a gift. I buy them stuff all the time so buying them something isn't really all that special. Instead, I always make sure to spend some time with only them. I make them a cake of the flavor of their choice, along with the ice cream of their choice, and we sing happy birthday, blow out candles, and have cake and ice cream as a family.
My approach to adolescent responsibility is much like the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." In my opinion, by the time children are entering adolescence, they should be able to basically take care of themselves as far as their physical needs are concerned. Since their body is changing so much during this time, the last thing they really need to be focusing on is learning how to perform simple tasks that should, by the time they are adolescents, be practically second nature.
By the time my children were entering adolescence, they could wash, dry, iron, and put away their own laundry with little or no assistance; clean their bathrooms, including sweep and mop; change and wash their sheets; cook simple meals (ramen noodles, scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc.); help with household chores such as grocery shopping, putting away groceries, washing dishes, dumping trash, mowing the yard, washing the car; go to bed at an appropriate time when they are tired; and best of all, awake to their own alarms and have themselves dressed and ready with all necessary items for school on time in the morning.
Not only could they perform these tasks by the time they were early adolescents, but they knew why it was expected of them to do it for themselves. They understood that they were learning and perfecting skills that will carry them into adulthood and that they will later teach their children to perform. Additionally, neither do they get nor expect an allowance for helping with the daily and weekly household cleaning and chores. Anything that involves caring for their basic needs and wants is not eligible for allowance or any special consideration.
Now, in the years leading up to adolescence, when I was teaching them to do all of this stuff, sometimes I would get back talk. One of the favorite things for them to say as small children was, "But you are my MOM! YOU are supposed to do this FOR me! It's YOUR JOB!!" This declaration was almost always accompanied by tears and/or yelling and/or some sort of tantrum, but I firmly would declare right back that my job was to TEACH them how to do it (whatever "it" was) for themselves NOT to do it for them. They didn't appreciate this logic as small children, but I do believe they understand now that I helped them so much by not doing everything for them.
Do you agree with the following statement?
Adolescents should be able to lock their bedrooms doors whenever they want.
#4: Open The Door
By the time my children were adolescents, they enjoyed spending the majority of the time that they were home in their rooms...with their doors shut. This is ok with me because they spend an incredible amount of time at school and other activities with their peers - not to mention the things we do together as a family. I think it is natural for them to want to go into their room, their haven, and shut their door when they are home. Plus, I know if they are in their rooms they are safe from harms way as well as from their own shenanigans.
At our house, closed bedroom doors are ok; however, locked bedroom doors are not allowed without prior permission (which is only granted occasionally for limited periods of time). I don't allow doors to be locked because I want my children to behave at all times as if they want me to be pleased by their actions if I were to just so happen to appear at any moment. I have been called overprotective on more than one occasion, but my kids understand that it is my responsibility to look after them until they are adults, and they understand that I take my responsibility very seriously. I allow them privacy, but it is a privilege, not a right, for as long as they are my legal responsibility.
That being said, before entering their rooms, I always knock a few times, pause long enough for them to yell "WAIT!" if they are not dressed (but this rarely happens because I usually know when they are dressing, and I do not disturb them), then I enter. Sometimes, I only stick my head in long enough to say "Hey" or "Love you." I can usually tell by their reactions if they want to be left alone or are open to some conversation. If they are sleeping, sometimes I will go in and kiss their foreheads like I did when they were small children.
Some days, they open their own doors often enough that I might not open and peek in on them. They might be in and out of the kitchen, or in and out of each others rooms. I don't allow TV's in the bedrooms in our house - I have this thing about the bedroom being for sleep (and another "s" word) only - so sometimes they will gather in the family room to hang out and watch TV, talk, or watch videos on their iPods together. Sometimes, they will even get together and cook. I love seeing them work together...it just makes me all smiley and bubbly inside!
Hope For Teenagers and Parents
This by far is not an all inclusive list of easy, effective parenting methods for your adolescent, but I do believe if you practice these methods...make them habits...your adolescent will be happier, which means you will be happier, too! The adolescent years can be very rough and seem to drag on and on and on, but I have faith that there really does come an end; however, if you think that the adolescence stage ends once they are no longer a teenager or have safely made it through puberty, you may be mistaken. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
The term adolescence is commonly used to describe the transition stage between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence is also equated to both the terms “teenage years” and “puberty.” However adolescence is not exclusive to either of these terms. Puberty refers to the hormonal changes that occur in early youth; and the period of adolescence can extend well beyond the teenage years. In fact, there is no one scientific definition of adolescence or set age boundary. There are key development changes that nearly all adolescents experience during their transition from childhood to adulthood.1
Many researchers and developmental specialists in the U.S. use the age span 10 – 24 years as a working definition of adolescence. This age span can be further divided into sub stages. The table below, developed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, describes the developmental characteristics of adolescents by sub stage specific to physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.2 This table illustrates that adolescence is one of the most dynamic stages of human growth and development; and is second only to infancy in the rate of developmental changes that take place.
Adolescent Parenting Made Easy
I know that I can't be the only parent that says this, but my kiddos make parenting them so easy. They are so happy and good natured and so, so, very lively. I wish I could take all of the credit for having such an incredible brood, but I have prayed a lot of prayers, shed a lot of tears, and had a lot of help from friends, family, and yes, even the government at times. My parenting methods come from a mix of the way I was parented, trial and error, advice from other parents, as well as my own twist on methods from the "Love and Logic" parenting series and various other parenting magazines and experts. I know that I still have a ways to go and a lot to learn, but I am confident that we will "get there"...wherever "there" is! Happy Adolescent Parenting all!