Top Ten Tips for Parenting Teens
I once went on a training programme about drugs and young people. At the back of the handbook there was a long list of symptoms that might indicate drug use: mood swings, excessive tiredness, staying out late, losing interest in previous hobbies, bad skin, irritability, avoiding spending time with the family, clumsiness, poor communication. It was followed by a caution: ‘Any one of these could be normal teenage behaviour’!
If you’ve already got a teen, you may be nodding at this point. Parenting teens can feel like a whole new ball game and there are no guarantees. Add to this the challenge of faith and church and you might feel like diving back under the duvet until they emerge, hopefully balanced young adults in ten years’ time.
But don’t despair! There are plenty of things you can do to make the ride a little easier. Flick through the highlights or read on for the full lowdown:
- Don’t forget to enjoy your teen. It may be uncharted waters and choppy at times, but this is your child emerging into the amazing adult they are designed to be. It takes time and it’s a journey, so hang on in there.
- It may feel as if you have lost all influence over your teen, but research shows that parents are still the strongest influence on teenagers. They will watch you like a hawk, even if they don’t tell you! So, be confident that they are listening to you and watching you.
- Wear your faith on the outside. Help them see what a grown up faith looks like, in the good times and the difficult times. Talk about the difference it makes, about how you and God relate and how you see God working.
- Be prepared to set boundaries. Even though a 10pm curfew may be greeted with a roll of the eyes and a groan, boundaries let your teen know what you think is best and they prove that you care. Even better, if you are known as a parent who sets boundaries, it’s easier for your teen to say, ‘I can’t – my parents wouldn’t let me.’ So, set the boundaries you need to, and if you can, involve your teen in agreeing what they are. It’s also useful to remind them that if they keep to the boundaries, they will prove themselves trustworthy and you will feel confident about giving them more freedom in the future.
- Seize the opportunity to talk when they need to. Be prepared for this to be at the most inconvenient time, often very late at night. You can sometimes create opportunities for chatting by suggesting a walk together or when driving somewhere. Watching TV or a film or looking at social media may also be a time when you could wonder together about how the characters behave or respond, or open the door to conversations about big topics like sex, friendship and drugs. Start those big conversations way before you think that you need to. It'll save you from suddenly trying to introduce the rather tricky topic of sex and boundaries because they’ve just started going out with their first girlfriend or boyfriend. It will give them time to evaluate and process your views so that they are making informed choices about their behaviour and responses.
- Make your home an open home. Welcome their friends, provide endless piles of food and drinks and allow them to take over the lounge. You’ll be modelling hospitality and you’ll get to know who they are hanging around with. Often, you’ll be able to be a friend to their friends too and sometimes provide a bit of stability or wisdom that they need.
- At church, do all you can to help them build relationships with wise adults. The Sticky Faith people cite some research which suggests that five adults speaking into a teen’s life makes a huge difference to their understanding of faith. So come along to those church socials, invite people round for lunch, take your teen to that inconvenient Sunday evening group, get to know others and prioritise attending church.
- Look for opportunities for your teen to do real mission. It will give them the excitement of serving God and seeing lives changed, not just hearing about him and singing songs. Real mission could mean going to Africa, but it doesn't have to. It could mean joining in with your church’s community service weekend; serving on team at a summer camp; being on a rota at church; or working out how your family could put others first at Christmas. In fact, it’s the low key week in, week out serving that impacts the most, rather than the big trips or high profile events. Look out for your teen’s passion and help them find ways to act on it.
- Pray for them. For where they are now and for the next stage, for their relationships, for their future spouses. Even if all you can see is a moody, grunting, man-child who seems not to care about anything or an anxious appearance-obsessed teen driven by their peers. Have faith that their Father God loves them even more than you do, that He wants the best for them and has a wonderful and magnificent plan for their life.
- What have we missed? We asked for your help to #findthe10thtip and throughout May you sent us loads of brilliant ideas. Here are some of our favourites:
- When it’s difficult to engage face to face or you know they are having a tough time, start with a text. I text my son at lunchtime with ‘How’s your day? I love you’.
- Keep communication open, be loving and be their advocate at school an in life in general.
- Tell your teen they’re wonderful and loved. Often. They need to hear it. We can never say it too much!
- Empowering them to be their own decision makers which helps them have confidence in making good choices
- Keep spiritual family rhythms.
- Worship, pray & read scripture together while providing space for genuine discussion.
- Parents, be honest and open, leading with your life in the ups and downs
- Create home as a safe space to wrestle out the hard questions.
One of the things teens really need to see is how we handle stuff so we especially liked this idea, sent in by Gill 'Help build & maintain emotional intelligence in your teen by modelling it'. She is the lucky winner of a copy of Parenting Children for a Life of Confidence.