We have waited all these years for our little gems to grow into their own unique personalities and become responsible mature teenagers. After all, most of us have put an inordinate amount of time into meeting all of their needs and wants, and ensuring we are giving them our best. We have engaged them in sports, drama, music and more. Carted them around to endless parties and games. Spent many weekends at the ballparks or arenas or watching recitals and productions. We really worked hard to ensure we were giving the parenting role our best!
Then, WHAM just like that they take the middle or high school “turn”. In one foul swoop, we become the enemy or worse yet an all too embarrassing enemy. Wait… how did this happen? For some parents the “turn” comes with warning signs. Although, many of us are good at ignoring those signs. The slow withdrawal as our beloved children continue their journey for independence and freedom! During this time, they often have a sense of false confidence leading them to make decisions that can be detrimental to their health and safety.hey begin to retreat and not openly communicate. It is during this time that they need you most! They need to know they can rely on you to support them even when they are telling you differently.
Part of navigating this tough time, requires parents to have very thick skin. You see their personal attacks and withdraw often have nothing to do with the AWESOME parent you have been over the last dozen or more years. It has more to do with new friend groups and social pressures that your child is learning to navigate. This is scary for them. Yet, most kids want to endure this path alone without the support of their “embarrassing” parents. They feel they need to start learning to handle these pressures without help. Conversely, parents take their withdraw personal and begin to engage in the conflict of it all rather than taking a more supportive role.
Learning to step back while still being supportive, firm and fair can be a tough path for parents to navigate. This requires that we learn to be supportive while still admonishing unwanted behaviors. It often feels like we are trying to nail jello to the wall or hit a moving target as their moods ebb and flow to their changing hormones. Teens need to hear every day how incredible they are and how proud we are of them (yes, even on the days we don’t really like them). They need to know we will be there and still love them when they make bad decisions. All GOOD kids occasionally make BAD decisions. This does not make them BAD kids.
It is important to note that I am not suggesting there are no consequences for these decisions. In fact, I suggest the contrary. The consequences should be firm and fair, and it is best when the consequences can be natural. For example, your teen decides to wear an outfit to school you specifically told them not too. They get sent to internal suspension. You get the panicked text: TEEN: I got in trouble for this outfit, can u bring me clothes? PARENT: Ummm… NO! TEEN: You have too I have a test third period. The reality is you don’t have too. You already told them not to wear it. Bailing them out defeats the natural consequence. They need to accept responsibility. When they arrive home, this has somehow become your fault. They engage in an on sloth of derogatory remarks. An appropriate response ranges from “I’m sorry you had a bad day. You may not talk to me like that” to “I’m happy to help you choose a more appropriate outfit if you have questions or concerns about it in the future but your tone needs to change immediately and you need to take responsibility for this. Would you like me to help you study for your test or do your extra credit”. The reality is that will come with a smug answer or eye roll. That is okay! Don’t take on their bad mood or poor behavior. Most importantly, don’t own or accept the blame. This is on them. Go on with your day! (…and, yes, you can go in the bathroom or behind close doors and chuckle and say I told you so all day long. However, there is no need to say it to them- continue to exhibit maturity and respect while you are in front of them).
Learning to navigate your teenager’s behaviors can be as tough on parents as the teenage years are for our children! Give your child positive praise often. Be open to listen when they are willing to talk. Be consistent, firm and fair. If you say NO, that means NO. Don’t waiver. It teaches them to bargain and whine for what they want. It’s perfectly appropriate to tell them you need time to think or to take time to make a decision. Once that decision is made, stick to it!
Keep your teenager engaged in activities that consume their time. Don’t leave them idol all day with nothing to build their self-confidence and self-worth. If they are not into sports, drama, or music, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in your community. It is imperative that they find something to build their self-worth and to learn to be responsible.
Most importantly, don’t take your teens withdraw or what may seemingly be hatred or disrespect personally. It is important to be strong and confident in your decisions. Surround yourself with people that share your parenting value set and rely on them to give you strength. You will need it! Lastly, don’t be afraid to upset your child by telling them NO and helping them make tough decisions. Don’t tolerate disrespect on any level! Your job is to keep them safe from harming themselves and others and to mentor them to become productive citizens. Don’t focus so much on being their friends and needing their approval. That comes later when they have learned to respect you for being tough, firm, and fair!