The terrible twos pale in comparison to the teen years. Most parents identify the teen years as the most difficult years of all. Many worry about their ability to parent as the harder they try, the more they seem to push their teen away.
In an effort to make their teen happy, well meaning parents can try too hard to solve their teens problems, be their friend, or give unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Then there are the parents who seem to be able to make their teen’s actions, attitudes, behaviors and inactions about themselves.
Parents are not purposely trying to alienate their teen, they likely just don’t have the parenting skills to know how to handle the inevitable hormonal changes, the societal pressures and the ensuing emotional ups and downs of 21st century teens.
Many parents haven’t learned how to parent themselves, let alone their teenagers. Of all the classes that parents had to take in high school, parenting along with self care was never one of them. This is what makes parenting one of the most difficult jobs of all. When our children grow into teenagers, our parenting skills are really put to the test. Teens’ perspective can offer some basic guidelines to help us to be there for our teenagers.
One thing teenagers wish parents understood is that their attitude and behavior is about them, not you. You don’t have to take their attitude and behavior so personally. It’s not about you – don’t take it so personally.
Having cared for our children since the second they were born, it is difficult for parents when our children transition into adolescence. By the time our children reach the age of 12, a lot of parenting is done. We can step back a little and let them wander on their own journey. As responsible parents, we have taught them the basics of life, how to be safe and how to be responsible in society.
So, the next time your teen seems upset or is not in the mood to talk with you instead of taking it personally, give them space. Let them know you are there for them if they want to talk, but don’t be upset when they don’t tell you what is on their mind. Remember: it is not about you. It likely has nothing to do with you, is nothing about you and there is nothing that you can do to change or fix whatever is on their mind. Let them have their space to sort through their emotions without adding yours to the mix!
Secondly, teens want to tell parents that they are not your friend. This does not mean that someday you won’t be friends, but right now they are focusing on friendships and relationships with their peers. This is a normal stage of their development. Too many parents are parentifying their teens, blurring the lines between parent and child. This is confusing and draining for teens.
Teens need a boundary that exists between you and them. They don’t want to hear about your family, financial, friend, or work problems. This is stressful for them. Besides, they don’t have the experience or knowledge to process this type of information. Talk to your adult friends about these adult topics. Allow your teens to talk with their friends about well, whatever teens talk about!
When there are no boundaries in your relationship, teens don’t feel safe. They want to know that you are their parent and will be there for them if they need you to be. It is not their responsibility to be there for you.
Teens do not want to talk about school, their friends, chores or their future with you. Once in a while these conversations are appropriate, but generally speaking they want you to show a genuine interest in what they are interested in. They don’t want an interrogation about their personal life.
If they ask you to watch a show together, that is their way of spending time with you. Watch the show together whether it is something that interests you or not. If they tell you about their friends, just listen – do not offer your opinion or judgment. The more it seems like you are questioning the judgment of your teen, the more they will withhold from you. This is not to punish you, but to protect themselves from your feelings, judgment and/or opinions.
Respect their boundaries so that they learn how to respect the boundaries of others. Trust that if your teen wants your advice, they will ask you for it. Don’t take it personally if they don’t. Don’t expect them to share all of their secrets with you and don’t read their diary or go through their personal things. Privacy is a real thing! Invading your teens’ privacy is the opposite of trust. Teens have their own feelings and thoughts that they are working through that are separate from you. Trust and allow them to work through their feelings and thoughts on their own! Be available to them if they do need someone to listen.
Thirdly, your teen wants you to know that they are going through a lot. This is not the 80’s or 90’s. It is the 21st century where social media leads the way. The pressure to fit in is immense and public. Social values are changing. Children are being killed at school. Teens are processing a lot more information than we could have even imagined. They may need to emotionally shut down at times, tune out or slow their pace. These are ways they cope with stress. Support their natural instincts to take a break.
Help your teen process information by actively listening and by asking a series of non-invasive, non-judgmental questions to help them express and reflect on the information they are processing. Parents can offer support and strategies for their teens to process the information such as journaling, talking to a counselor at school or just by sharing it with them or someone they trust.
Parents can’t solve the problems of their teens, nor should they try. Do not make it about a life lesson that you have learned and want to share with them. Do not offer them solutions. Teens need and desire the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes and to solve their own problems. It is a natural rite of passage. It is a great step towards their inevitable autonomy.
Tell your teen that while you don’t understand how they feel because you did not grow up with all this information and social media, you are always there to listen to them while they process their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that you trust their decisions and judgment. Remind them that there is no such thing as failure, only opportunities to learn. Trust that you have done your job as a parent and passed down important values and morals. Part of adolescence involves testing boundaries and limits so teens can figure out their own identity and how they fit into the world. This is an important part of their development!
And most importantly, teens want to know that you love them unconditionally. They want to know that no matter what you will love them without judgment or conditions. They need to know that you love them even when they are not being honest! They want to feel like you admire them and love who they are becoming.
Teens need to feel safe to be themselves, to trust their own judgment and to be able to make and learn from their own mistakes without feeling like you will not love them if they do something you don’t agree with or approve of. I know this sounds obvious, but as parents our well meaning advice can sometimes be misinterpreted by our teens.
Be aware and conscious of the words you speak. Consider the implications of what you say. If you are worried about their nutrition, instead of nagging them, don’t keep unhealthy snacks in the house and cook healthy meals so you know they are eating some healthy food. Control the things that you can and let go of the things you can’t.
Teens are growing into young adults who are learning how to live independently. If they are spending their energy dealing with our worry, judgment, lack of boundaries, insecurity and fear it will be that much harder for them to learn the coping skills they need to be successful in the 21st Century. Teens are already worried about their schoolwork, their sexual identity, how they look, if they fit in and so on.
Parenting doesn’t get easier as our children approach adolescence, but we can become more conscious of how we respond to and support our teens. Heed their advice and don’t take them so personally or yourself so seriously, be their parent and not their friend, listen to them, give them space to grow on their journey and let them know that you love them unconditionally.
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of “21st Century Culture” brought to you by Keara Kisses.
Be conscious of how you are parenting your teens. Give them space, give yourself a break and allow them to learn from their experiences, take chances and trust their own judgment.
In our next episode of “21st Century Living Parenting” we will explore the types of social pressures our teens are experiencing and how we can support them.
For more information on my individual and parenting support groups, retreats and services visit kearakisses.com.
Thank you for listening. Until we meet again, keep wondering.
These blogs are written from my personal perspective. I have over thirty years of experience investigating, counseling, assessing and understanding the nature of humans. I look forward to creating a connection with you and sharing reciprocal positive experiences, comments and feedback about your life experiences and opportunities for growth. Please feel free to comment below. Positive comments only please.