Parenting Teens: Three Suggestions for Easing the Challenge

Things change when our children become teens.  They may become withdrawn or brutal in their comments or sulky or someone radically unlike the child you had known up until now.  The tension in your home may feel unbearable at times, the fights more sharp and frequent, or the requests for them to participate in family activities more pleading.  You know their bodies are rapidly changing and their minds are developing.  You know they may be struggling socially.  You know they are facing pressures around college and careers that we never felt. How can you make the challenges less daunting so that you can remain the constant in their lives as so much – internally and externally – is changing for them?  Here are three ideas:     

1.       Train yourself to listen.  Above all, listen more.  Talk less, even when those words are blowing up in your brain and demanding an exit from your mouth.  Instead, simply listen.  Accept that it is OK to do less and listen more.  It is OK to listen without fixing.  Active listening is an art that is appreciated by all who desire to be heard (which, by the way, is everyone).  Notice your teen’s words, their tone of voice, their body language, and their level of energy.  Notice what interests them and what doesn’t.  Kay Lindahl in "The Sacred Art of Listening" wrote, “Perhaps one of the most precious and powerful gifts we can give another person is to really listen to them, to listen with quiet, fascinated attention, with our whole being, fully present.  Listening is a creative force.”  Listening will allow you to be more creative, empathetic, responsive, and understanding.  Because your teen will feel valued and heard, listening will make sure you remain that “safe place to land.”    

2.       Let go of the vision you have of your child as a child.  Begin to see him or her in a new light, that of a budding adult.  Notice each time he takes on a responsibility and each time she completes something that she began.  Notice the budding adult as revealed in their body.  Notice when they are kind, both to others and to themselves.  Notice new interests and the pursuit of old interests.  Notice when they connect with friends in a compassionate way.  Let them take on the responsibilities of their lives with your assistance, if requested.  Let them know what you notice.  Encourage their budding adult selves!      

3.       Life lessons are learned throughout life.  Recognize that your child may not learn all of his or her life lessons before they leave home. You do not have to teach your child everything right now.  They may learn some lessons from others, especially their peers.  They will learn the lessons they need to learn in their own time, through their experiences.  That means that these teen years are a time for you to develop your faith in your teen and in the process of growth.   Just as your child learned to walk, learned to use the toilet, and learned to read and write in their own time, they will learn all that they need to be the adult they will become.  Having faith in them and in the process of growth will allow you to enjoy them more. 

Fights will happen.  Teens will be grouchy or surly or different from their earlier incarnations. Listen your way through the chaos.  Notice and encourage the budding changes.  Enjoy them more and teach less through words and more through example.  It will all get better.