This is a two-part blog to encourage and equip parents of teenagers. See part 1 here. Pass this along to a parent who needs it!!
In the first part of this blog, we shared the stunning truth that although our high-schoolers certainly don’t look it, they secretly want us to stick with our “staying on top of them” parenting role. As long as they see our actions as helping them grow (see the details in part 1), they don’t want us to give in and become a friend before it is time.
But in the midst of drama, pushing, and confusion about what on earth we should do, it can get exhausting to stay the course and finish the high-school season strong. So in this part 2, we share the final four actions that will help us do that.
Action #3: Say goodbye to guilt
As parents, guilt can bully us into making concessions that aren’t good for our kids. Here are two examples:
Suppose John and Jackie don’t let their 15-year-old go out with her friends because her homework isn’t done, and they’ve been clear about this expectation. Predictably, their teen lashes out, calls them the worst parents in the world, and slams her bedroom door – with a parting shot that she’s having a hard enough time fitting in at school without her parents keeping her from having a social life. John and Jackie are at a critical juncture. They know they can let guilt goad them into relenting, but they decide to hold their ground, knowing it’s in their daughter’s best interests.
Or take Aaron and April, who have both been working many late hours to shore up their struggling family business. They feel guilty for being so unavailable, and compensate by setting aside the healthy guardrails they had originally placed around their sons’ video game use – leaving the boys to play for hours on end. Months into this new rhythm, Aaron and April see that the ramifications aren’t great, but feel even guiltier about trying to reestablish the rules around gaming – especially because the boys have gotten so used to being able to play whenever they want. And with the economy the way it is, they know they won’t be able to cut back their own work hours any time soon.
As parents, the temptation to slip into guilt-based parenting strategies is real. So whenever you feel that sense of guilt, acknowledge it but remember that you don’t have to give into it! Remind yourself of the vital research-backed truth from part 1: Our teenagers actually want us to stand our ground! When we sidestep that role out of guilt (or for any other reason), we actually create a situation where they feel uncared-for and insecure. (Not to mention a situation – as with the gaming example – that is potentially really unhealthy for them.)
An important note: being the parent rather than the friend doesn’t mean swinging the pendulum of rules enforcement back to a pattern that was more appropriate for early childhood! In a few months or a few years, your teenager will be flying on their own – so now is when they should both be able to earn and experiment with the freedoms they are pushing for and know that a parent is looking over their shoulder to see how they are handling those freedoms.
Action #4: Give them the reassurance they long for
One of the most crucial things our kids need during the turbulent teenage years is our steady presence, affirmation, and our reassurance of our love and care for them – even when they make the inevitable mistakes. And both of those things go a long way toward the (secret) goodwill that allows a child to truly want the parent to keep hold of the reins for a while. (As noted in part one, see Chapters 4 and 5 of For Parents Only for more detail on what that looks like.)
Now, sometimes (as with the Aaron and April example above), it simply isn’t possible to be as present as we want to be. But, we can all find ways to affirm our kids. Encouraging words are like fuel for your child’s heart. (For some examples tailored to tweens as well as teens, consider these phrases that will make your child’s day.)
Action #5: Plan time to connect as a couple
I can almost hear what some of you are thinking: But I need help reining in smart phone use, disrespectful language, and teenage drama! I need a survival strategy for parenting teenagers, not a date night. Ah, but regular time to connect as a couple is a survival strategy.
Here’s why making time together as a couple is so important: Even though the research shows that teenagers actually want us to take charge, they’ll also expend a lot of energy challenging our authority. As couples, this can leave us frayed, frustrated, and – if we’re not careful – fighting with each other. Spending regular, meaningful time talking, praying, being sexually intimate, and planning for the future helps us stay attuned to each other’s needs. In this way, we can also address our teenagers’ needs on stronger footing – together instead of taking the “tag, you’re it” approach.
What about those who would love to have a spouse’s support, but instead are single-parenting? I have several close friends who are single parents, and I know you are in a unique and often difficult situation. So the first thing you need to do is have grace with yourself! Yes, your child needs discipline and attention – but it is totally understandable that you also have to juggle your sanity. However, for the sake of your kids, it is also important to find the support you need to stay the course. Being the bad guy can be lonely when you’re the only bad guy! It is crucial to seek connection and help through a small group at church, prioritize time in God’s word, and get equipped through excellent and specialized resources like those at Focus on the Family.)
Action #6: See the long view
Often, what feels like the worst thing to do – especially if it’s accompanied by pushback or drama – is, in the long run, the best thing to do. Remembering that long view and “thinking forward” is a crucial tool in staying steady despite the chaos or drama.
Here’s an example. Remember John and Jackie? Together, when they decide to enforce the homework rule, they can go into the conversation anticipating that their teenager may have an emotional reaction (slamming the door, accusing them of making life harder) and being okay with it. Why? Because they also go into the conversation knowing that deep down inside, she will be glad her parents are nudging her toward responsibility. They can even anticipate that there may come a day when their daughter even looks back and thanks them!
This long view will help you overcome the short-term theatrics with knowledge that you are building character and a sense of security in your teenager. (If you need new strategies, see my article on how to handle teenage “drama.”)
One of my team members recently relayed to me how frayed her relationship was with her son in high school over things like the hours he spent gaming and his helpfulness (or lack of it) around the house. Now, he’s a dean’s list college student whose initiative has earned him several promotions at his part-time job. He thanked her recently for instilling a work ethic in him that’s helping him thrive. “I hated it when you limited my Xbox time and made me unload the dishwasher, but I knew you were doing it because I’d gotten out of balance. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but even then I knew it was true,” he said.
Friends, in the end, even if we do everything right (which of course we never will!), we have to know that our teenagers will be mad at us from time to time. When that happens, repeat after me (under your breath if your teenager is in the next room) “She’ll thank me in five years, she’ll thank me in five years …”
And then exhale, knowing you’re are loving your teenager the way the Father loves us. With loving boundaries, our best interests at heart, and the long view in mind.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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