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Advice For Parents: What Teenagers REALLY Want, Besides a Bigger Allowance
Tips For Raising Emotionally Healthy Teenagers
Now that I am an official empty nester with three kids in their 20s and two wonderful grandchildren, I have spent some time reflecting on the things I did right and wrong as I raised my children single-handedly. And yes -- I messed up quite often. We all do. No parenting class or "how to" book can prepare you for the challenge of dealing with teens.
With a good sense of humor and a little bit of Prozac, any parent can get through the teen years without turning gray. But it takes a little bit of understanding and lot of hard work to raise teenagers that eventually become productive and emotionally healthy young adults.
In my humble opinion, these are the eight things that teenagers crave and seek from their parents as they navigate through their adolescent years.
Teenagers are in the process of discovering who they are. Growing into a young adult is uncharted territory for them, and they need reassurance all along the way. Structure definitely gives them some of the reassurance they need.
Whether they fight about it, ignore it or make fun of it, they want to know that Wednesday night is still spaghetti night, Easter dinner will continue to be at Uncle Joe's and Aunt Sophie's, and "Santa" will always fill their Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve. Supper is at 6:00, chore day is Saturday and Sunday mass is at 10:00 am. They may never let you know it, but this structure is very, very important to them.
One thing that was very obvious with my son when he was in his early teens was that he needed to know ahead of time exactly what was going to happen in advance in order to process the information properly and, I guess, figure out whether he was going to rebel or quietly acquiesce. He simply fell apart if he found out that he had a doctor's appointment or that we were going to amusement park a mere day before the event.
#2: BOUNDARIES AND LIMITATIONS
If you've ever watched "The Dog Whisperer" with Cesar Millan, then you've heard these words used over and over again in dog training: boundaries and limitations. There's a simple reason for this. Dogs and teenagers alike can never feel successful at pleasing you if they do not understand what you expect from them.
Almost all teens will rebel to some of the boundaries you give them. This is normal, and you should expect it and be prepared to deal with it. But whatever you do, don't let your kids fool you. They still crave boundaries. Even the most delusional and rebellious adolescent can make the connection that giving them boundaries equals "I care about you".
Too often, teens act more like toddlers, and they will test you on each and every limitation that you place on them. To learn how to respond to those tests, see the next section on "Consistency".
Setting limits for your teenagers can be quite the balancing act, as too many boundaries or limitations that are too severe can have quite the opposite effect that you desire. (I'm sure we've all seen the child at the party whose parents did not allow him to have sugar grabbing every piece of candy or cake that they could and stuffing it in their little mouths when Mom's back was turned.)
If you are hell bent on screwing up your teen, then don't bother to be consistent with them. It's really that simple. Give them a curfew and don't give them consequences when they break it, or, even worse, only discipline them every now and then when they cross the line.
Teenagers will be the first to take advantage of inconsistent parenting. They may appear to enjoy it, but trust me -- they prefer that you are consistent and can count on Action A from them bringing on Reaction B from you.
Being consistent with your teenager becomes that much more important and at the same time more difficult when parents are divorced. Get over your angst with your ex, however, or you are going to have one messed up kid.
Books About Raising Teens
#4: FREEDOM AND TRUST
Teenagers are desperate to have you trust them and give them a little bit of freedom. This doesn't necessarily mean that they expect you to give them the family car for a cross-country trip on their 16th birthday.
This is where we start to see all the pieces come together.
Teen turns 13. Mom and Dad give them a cell phone for their birthday. They trust them with this freedom because they have given their teen:
- Structure - The teenager knows that Mom and Dad get the cell phone bill on the 1st of every month. They will review the teen's use of the phone and communicate any and all issues with the teenager.
- Boundaries and Limitations - Mom and Dad have been very clear with the amount of minutes and text messages available to their teenager and the consequences if the teen crosses those boundaries.
- Consistency - Mom and Dad have worked together to consistently follow through on everything they have said to their teenager about using the cell phone. Stated consequences for crossing boundaries are followed through on each and every time.
When you do this, there are only two scenarios that could possibly happen: the teenager lives up to their parents' trust and is responsible with the freedom allotted to them, or the teenager crosses the line and the parents' jump in and follow through with a consequence.
But there's one more step we haven't touched on. Follow through with the consequence and then let it go. If you hold every misstep against your teenager and judge what freedoms you allow them today against errors in judgment they made three years ago, you will have a teenager that will just give up.
That said, if a child consistently crosses the same boundary, the consequence must become more serious after time, eventually resulting in a loss of that freedom. Communicate with your child all along the way, however, so that they have a very clear view of the consequences they could face each and every time.
Teenagers are going to make mistakes, and usually lots of them. Most teenagers are simply children trying to be adults, and even mature adults make mistakes. They need and want you to be patient with them. Yelling and shouting at them just isn't going to work -- trust me -- and it will make them tune you out quicker than you can blink an eye.
When they make make an error in judgment or cross the boundaries that you've set for them, do not let them see you get riled up. Do not let them hear you yelling. Look them in the eye, speak with your normal voice, and treat them exactly as the adult they are longing to be. They will love you even more for it.
Way too many parents these days take this concept overboard and believe that patience equals praise. They refuse to give their child a reality check and praise the child so much instead of just being honest with them that they raise little bitty princesses that will grow up to be full-blown narcissists.
Patience is a means of delivering a message -- it is not the message itself. Being patient means saying "Johnny, I asked you to practice piano for 30 minutes and you only practiced for 5 minutes. Privileges are gone" in a calm manner. It does not mean that you say, "Wow, Johnny, that's the best five minutes of piano playing I've ever heard. You're ready to give your own concert in Carnagie Hall!"
#6: KINDNESS AND RESPECT
Good Lord, so many parents forget about this. We all have the tendency to be so very lovely to friends and neighbors, and leave the ugly bits for the family. Being kind and respectful to your teenagers is even more important because how you treat them is how they will treat others.
Stay in tune with your teenagers. Acknowledge when they are feeling down or having a hard time and discuss it with them. They may not want to talk to you about all of their problems, but will still be grateful that you noticed and made it a priority.
Be consistent in saying "please", "thank you" and "you're welcome" to your teenager. Trust me that teens pick up very quickly that you treat others with more respect than you do with them. It's an ugly scene. Don't get caught in that mess.
Resources for Parents of Teenagers
- Parenting From the Kid\'s Perspective - Radical Parenting with Vanessa Van Petten
Helpful parenting advice for moms and dads to build positive relationships with their generation y kids, teenagers and tweens.
- Parenting Teens
Parenting teens is a monumental task, with many rewards. Parents of teens can find help with all aspects of parenting here, including but not limited to parenting tips and skills, how to get your teen into college, and more.
- Raising Successful Teenagers
Complete guide to parenting teenagers including adolescent development, health & safety issues, relationships, sexuality, driving, school problems, communication, and self-esteem.
#7: POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
Unfortunately, I know way too many parents who are quick to point out the negative and completely forget the positive in day-to-day interactions with their teenager.
"Those shorts are too short."
"You are too young to have a belly button ring."
"You look like a bum in those clothes."
"How can you stand that music?"
"Why did you get a C in Chemistry?"
Try swapping some of those phrases out with ones like:
"You look beautiful in that outfit."
"Great job on your math test."
"Thanks for remembering to take out the trash."
"I'm so proud of you."
Positive reinforcement is very important with both boys and girls, but to me it seems that a lack of positive reinforcement has a much longer lasting affect on men. I wish I had a dollar for every guy I know who said at one point or another that they 'just wanted to know that their Dad was proud of them'. Let your teenager know that you are proud of them and that you acknowledge all of the good that they do. And let them know it often.
#8: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
I believe that only a parent can truly understand what unconditional love is. So it's no wonder that teenagers are always seeking reassurance that we love them, especially when they mess up.
This is one I believe I got right with my kids. When my teenagers made mistakes, along with giving them a consequence I also always delivered the message that I still loved them -- no matter what. Teens need to hear that and they need to hear it often. The bigger the mistake that they make, the louder the message should be. Shout it from the rooftop if you need to, but deliver that message to them and you -- and your teenager -- will truly reap the reward.