Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Effectively Parent Your Teens

Last weekend our daughter finally crossed that long elusive threshold - she's now officially a teenager! It's been a long time coming. She's looked forward to reaching that milestone for quite some time now. Now it's finally here! So, then, now what?

Well, believe it or not, I'm a former teen. It seems like a distant memory but not long ago, I got to that exciting, yet scary phase of life. I know that these next several years will be a time of transition for each of us - for my daughter, her mom, her stepmom (my wife) and for me.

I'd love to think of myself as a wise adult who's always had it together but the fact is that when I was a teen, I was a child who did childish things. Those years, however, prepared me to become a man. And though I've had my challenges along the way, I think I've done just fine.
The lessons I learned about that time period, I believe, have helped to prepare me for this window that's just now opened for me - parenting a teen.

This is an entirely new experience for me so I greatly anticipate what these next few years will bring. Think about this, over the next 7 years, if things take their normal course, here's what I'll be dealing with. My daughter will:

- go to high school
- get her driver's license
- go on her first date
- go to her high school prom
- go off to college

And that's just skimming the surface of what lies ahead. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

The road that lies ahead is actually exciting, in a sense. Yet, it's also daunting, as I think about the reality of it. So as I consider my role in this new phase of her life, I want to share some thoughts on parenting teens. As I write this, I recognize that I'm in the audience as well. So I'll be giving tips to myself to be implemented over these coming years.Here are some tips that I believe will work wonders:

1. Recognize the changes taking place in your teen. The teen years are the necessary transition period between childhood and adulthood. Life is about growing and evolving as time goes on. Our kids have an inner mechanism built in to enable them to become who they really are. So give them the space to become who they naturally are.

2. Give them their space. Quite likely, not long after the teen years, most of our kids will either go off to college or move out to live independently. So as they prepare to take on the world, we need to give them the tools to succeed and then allow them to develop their skills.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Knowing how to talk to your teen is an acquired art form that few master. Just know that, to your teens, you're a parent. Not everything in their life will be an open book to you. Still, as a parent, you need to know as much as possible. Keeping the lines of communication open is key. Encourage open and honest dialogue without being judgmental.

4. Monitor their online activities. This tip is so crucial in today's world of social media and technological advances. As a loving parent, you need to give your teens space to become their true selves. At the same time, you don't want them to go astray. They may not think it's cool but if they're on Facebook and other social media, you need to become their "friend" or " follower". In our world, kids are exposed to so much. So we need to be protective of them while allowing them to blossom into what they can become.

5. Know the company they keep. People are known by the company they keep. So what kind of friends do your kids have? Do you approve of them? Are they the ideal type of influences you want on your kids? What are your kids' friends parents like? Do they share the values that you establish in your household? Do they allow underage drinking at family gatherings? Simple things like these will clue you in about just who's influencing your kids.

6. Note the changing nature of your conversations. As time progresses, the dialogue between you and your kids necessarily changes. Initially, it's a parent to child conversation. Over time, it evolves into adult to adult dialogue. Speak to your kids with respect, while still being a parent.

7. Allow them to make mistakes. Remember when you were a teen? You made mistakes, right? It is ok for them to err. But we should be in tune with them and their activities so that we can still parent them through each phase. Some of the best lessons are learned from our slip ups. So don't judge them or be too harsh. Be always ready to embrace the teachable moments that present themselves when they make mistakes. It'll help them to grow immensely.

8. Teach them to embrace their individuality. Peer pressure is one issue that every teen encounters at one point or the other. "If everybody does it, then what's wrong with it?" they might say. The stereotypical comeback to that is, "If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" Unfortunately, peer pressure would cause some to jump off that bridge. The more our kids celebrate their uniqueness, the less they give in and compromise their standards just so they can be accepted. They can choose to fit in with the "flock" like just another seagull or they can chart their own course like a mighty eagle.

9. Teach them to effectively manage money. Money is a tool that is used universally. "Needs" as well as "wants" are satisfied by it. Many men and women have failed in life as a result of their inability to effectively manage their finances. 

My daughter's 8th grade class recently went on a field trip that was more valuable than I could have imagined. She went to an establishment that's set up to teach kids about life and responsibility. She had a job and was given a budget to manage her household. She and her other classmates learned that it's not quite so easy buying clothes and fun gadgets for the kids while buying groceries and paying the mortgage, rent, car note, utility bills, credit cards and all. She came home that day and hugged me, saying, "Thanks Daddy - now I know what you have to go through." Let's hope she's now ready to learn of all that it takes to effectively manage finances.

10. Love them unconditionally. No matter what should ever occur in your life or your kids' lives, do everything to love them unconditionally. If they bring home straight A's, it's easy to love them and celebrate. But what about when the D's and F's come home? What if they get hooked on drugs or begin abusing alcohol? What if you have to deal with the dreaded teen pregnancy issue? Yes,  love them. 

You don't have to condone their every activity but part of the "parenting contract" is that you love them no matter what. Love gives you just the right words to say when your patience is tested. Commit that come what may, you'll lovingly support your teens. They're yours after all.

So there you have it. These tips are for you and me as we raise our not so little ones. It's an exciting road that lies ahead. It won't necessarily be all glamour. But if love leads the way then it'll be a beautiful ride.

All the best to you and yours.

The Upbeat Dad