Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a terrific, small group of parents and talkabout adolescent development. Most of these parents still had young children and were trying to “prepare” for what was ahead of them. Since I really like adolescents, I was happy to try to reassure them that (1) parenting teenagers could really be fun. And (2) that they were really already quite prepared because they had raised toddlers! You see, teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common. Toddlers are learning increased independence (Remember, “I do it myself!”) just as teenagers are wanting increased independence. Toddlers want to wander off and do things on their own while looking over their shoulder to make sure their parents are still there in case they’re needed. Teenagers do something similar. And while I had my fancy handout on developmental stages and my outline to follow, one dad cut right to the chase as he asked,”What are a few things that we really need to get right?” Wow. That’s a great question. I’m not sure anyone has asked me that in the 27 years I’ve been working with families. Now I will not be so arrogant as to assume that I have the answer. I can not promise that if you do these things well your kids will turn out just the way you’ve dreamed. But I have found these few ideas to be valuable:
- Set boundaries and limits. Teenagers need and want limits. Have reasonable expectations for them. They want to feel supported and to have something to bump up against. For example, there’s going to be that party where there are no adults and where there will be drinking and drugs and sex. They want you to tell them they can not go. They won’t be able to tell you that! They want to be able to blame it on you. Let them.
- Listen. Listen way more than speak. Don’t act shocked when they tell you things. Stay curious. Let them talk and then ask open ended questions to keep the conversation going, ” Hmmm… I wonder how that must have felt.” “Wow, what do you think that was like for them?” ” I imagine that hurt your feelings.”
- Keep your sense of humor. Laugh with them. Have fun together. Watch the movies they laugh at and laugh too. Watch the videos they think are hilarious. Don’t take yourself so serious!
This is just the beginning of a list. There are so many ideas we could add. If you’ve parented teenagers I’d love to hear what you’d add!