Recently, a young mom friend of mine asked me for advice about raising teenagers. She reasoned that since we raised four children and survived (barely), perhaps we had some advice for those still in the trenches.
When our youngest son turned 13, we had four teenagers. I said to my husband, “What were we thinking?”
Paul shook his head and said, “Clearly, we weren’t.”
Looking back on those often tumultuous years, I remember feeling frustrated, helpless, angry and just at a loss for what to do when it came to disciplining teenagers.
That being said, there were things we did that helped get us through those years, and hopefully helped mold our children into becoming productive and successful members of society. Here are some of my top tips when it comes to parenting teenagers.
• As a couple, stay united. Children learn very quickly which parent tends to be the “stricter” one. Our daughters used to say I was a “no person.” I was the one out of the two of us who would likely say no. The translation of that is that they were all much more likely to go ask Paul if they could do this or that. Once I figured out that little trick, we had a discussion and united to discuss big “asks” and decide together our answer.
• Communicate with the parents of your children’s friends and let your children know you do this regularly. The more adults who are in the loop of what teens are doing and where they are going, the better.
• Talk to your teenagers. While some are not the most pleasant people to be around, take a deep breath, remind yourself we were all young people once, and have regular discussions with your children. I am a big fan of family dinners — even though busy schedules make this challenging. Try to have dinner together at least a few times a week so everybody can “check-in” with one another. Talk about current events as well as pop culture. It’s important to see where your kids are on certain issues — and equally important they know your thoughts on these matters. Obviously there will be disagreements, but communicating is always better than avoiding discussions or dicey topics.
• Talk regularly to your spouse about concerns regarding your teenagers. We used to sit on the deck or out in the garden and talk about teenage matters. Our oldest daughter used to say we were outside “gossiping” about them. That always cracked us up — since I suppose it was true.
• Stay alert for signs of depression and/or anxiety with your young people. Occasional moodiness in teens is completely normal, but if you suspect your teen is depressed or is being bullied, don’t ignore it. Talk to your child and don’t be afraid to contact a school counselor or another professional.
• Remind yourself, sometimes you have to let go. I remember when our oldest son turned 16 and got his driver’s license. Talk about a stressful time for parents — especially with your first child since you have zero idea what to expect.
Our son wanted to go camping and kayaking for the weekend with a few friends. I was terrified and didn’t want to let him go. So many things could happen.
Paul said to me, “He is a young man now — I don’t think we should punish him when he has done nothing but make good grades, work and hasn’t gotten into any trouble.” I had to agree.
We let him go, his trip went fine and he went on numerous other trips from then on. He even traveled out West several times and kayaked and camped in some amazing places. Perhaps not surprisingly, that son went on to eventually join the Army, travel the world, and now is married and lives in Northern California. Who knows if he would have done all of these things if we had of squashed his adventurous spirit due to my fears.
• Keep your sense of humor. As I have said to my friends with babies, toddlers and young children — this too shall pass. Teenagers do grow up! When you are in the middle of those teenage years, it might feel like it will never happen — but I promise, before you know it, your teenagers will be young adults and off on their own.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.