Whenever I mention that I have three highschoolers I’m bound to hear, “OMG, you are braaaaave!”. People used to say it in exactly the same way when I told them I had three kids under five. It seems that having your kids close together instantly makes you ‘brave’ and I’ll take it. I’ve certainly never felt like I needed my wits about me more than now I’m parenting the teen years!
I’m such a cliché: it felt like the minute my son turned 16, I found myself becoming very nostalgic for those three little toddlers that used to exhaust me. Parenting the teen years is a different kind of exhaustion. It’s a mental and emotional marathon, rather than the physical slog that parenting the younger years used to be.
Are you a bit like that lately, too? Looking back through rose-coloured glasses and wondering what all of the fuss was about?
The thing is, I will always remember how hard those early years were. Even now, when I’m in the thick of parenting teenagers, I haven’t forgotten how overwhelmed and tired I was back then. Whether parenting older kids is ‘harder’ or not (and the jury is out on that), it’s definitely different. And at least you get to meet the challenges on a full night’s sleep. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Regardless, I’ve definitely changed the way I parent my kids over the years. It’s a subtle thing, one we barely notice unless we’re deliberately looking. I’ve noticed, though, that some parents don’t change the way they go about parenting the teen years. I think that might be why they are getting stuck. Here are a few things to consider.
1. Be the change
Role modelling the kind of person we want our kids to be is even more important as they get older. We’ve known how important being “good role model” is from the time the kids were tots, but what does it look like now they are tweens and teens? For me, that means doing things like:
- being open about my mistakes – so I’m letting the kids know that its okay to stuff up, that ‘failure’ can be turned around
- trying new things and being open to change – or, in other words, not asking anything of the kids that I’m not prepared to try myself
- giving back to our community – to show them that it takes a village and it’s okay to ask for help
- showing vulnerability when I’m feeling sad or lost – so they know that ‘losing face’ is just a made-up thing
- apologising when I lose it, but not showing guilt over it – because that way they know that I’m a human with human feelings, and humans always say sorry
- working hard at my career – so they can see that ‘work’ is enjoyable and something to strive for
- loving their Dad – to show them the power of a great partnership
- loving my friends and family – so they know that a great partnership is just part of feeling included.
2. Coach, don’t direct
One of the biggest challenges of parenting the teen years is learning that it’s not all about us! When the kids are small, we get to call the shots and make all the decisions. Older kids don’t like that. We can’t engineer their lives anymore – they have the biggest say. Parents need to step back and let kids run their own lives.
It’s very, very hard to watch my kids make a poor decision, but as long as I’ve offered them advice and tried to steer them in the right direction, my work here is done. This doesn’t mean I’m permissive (instead, our rules are pretty hard and fast, but they have complete control within these boundaries), or disengaged (rather, I can be a little too involved on many occasions). What it does mean is that after talking things through, the ball is in their court to play as they see fit. My role is to support and encourage them in the way they are playing the game.
One of the biggest challenges of parenting the teen years is learning that it’s not all about us!
3. Exercise The Pause
When the kids are little, we can make snap decisions and they pretty much go along with it. I mean, they might not, but they are not existentially questioning our decision. Teens, on the other hand, need a 20-page thesis with Powerpoint slides explanation for everything we say. For this reason, we need The Pause.
Before saying anything to my teens, I try to pause first, consider the options, then make my decision. I take as long a pause as I need.
4. Consequences later
There is zero point trying to rationalise with a teen. Issuing consequences when the kids were small was all about action in the moment. You needed to leap in, sort it out, and let them know the consequences immediately. Otherwise, the impact was lessened.
Parenting the teen years is pretty much the opposite of that. I’ve learned that there is no point engaging with a teen in full tantrum mode. Instead, I let them blow up while quietly ignoring them, storm off to their room (or wherever) and then way, way later I approach them to talk about their behaviour.
You can find out more about this technique here.
5. All about them
There’s nothing more comforting to a mother than having her child come and ask for advice. It’s the warm part of parenting and we love it. Now that the kids are older, though, I’m less inclined to tell them how and more inclined to ask them what.
- What do you think about it?
- What would you like to have happen?
- What can you do differently?
- What does success look like?
It has been an eye-opener to realise that what my kids truly value may not not match up with what I value.
6. Values-based parenting
I’ve been a big fan of strengths-based parenting for a long time, but as I’ve adjusted to parenting in the teen years, I’m also all about values-based parenting. This is where I am clear with both myself and the kids what my personal values are and try to parent with them as a solid foundation. I also encourage my kids to know what they truly value as well, so we can work from within their values as they grow.
It has been an eye-opener to realise that what my kids truly value may not not match up with what I value. Which I think is the basis for a lot of the conflict we have with our teens. Rather than fighting them on their values, I try to understand the why and work from there. It helps to remember that what our kids value now (eg. status, being cool, etc) will not be what they always value. Or, maybe it will. One of the key things to remember when parenting the teen years is meet them where they are.
What have you changed as your kids have gotten older?