The teen years are hard for our children. They are under pressure to get good grades. There is social pressure to be popular and to make friends. And amidst all that pressure, their bodies and brains are changing at a rapid pace. It is no small wonder that many teens struggle during this period.
Unfortunately, many parents view the teen years as a time to start stepping back from their parenting duties. They want to give their children more freedom. And after getting our kids through those tiring younger years, many parents want to go back to pursuing their own interests.
But our children need our support more than ever during the teen years. Even if they look like adults, realize that their brains still are not fully developed. They haven’t yet emotionally matured, and as a result, they can’t make decisions as an adult would. Yet, teenagers are expected to make decisions about very “adult” issues, like whether or not to use drugs, whether or not to have sex, and how to properly use social media.
So, teenagers need their parents. More specifically, they need good parents. They need parents who are going to be there for them, even when their teenage personalities can be prickly and difficult.
Below are some ways that you can support your teenager. Consider using them as you help your child get through these tricky teen years.
1. Don't let them flounder.
As Americans, we have the idea that everyone should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” And that is all well and good – for adults. Kids can’t do that. They need their parents help. And as a parent, your entire job is to help your kids.
So, if you see your child struggling in school, don’t sit back and watch. And certainly, don’t yell at them about it. Kids feel badly enough about getting bad grades. Of course, it may seem like they don’t care, but I can assure you that they do. Every child would prefer to get As instead of Ds. Some kids just have a hard time with school.
The key is to not let the situation get out of control. For example, my daughter is a top-notch student. However, math does not come easily to her, no matter how hard she studies. So, whenever she has had a challenging math class, I immediately have gotten her a tutor. These tutors either have been other teachers or older kids who were very good at math. And with the help of the tutors, she got terrific grades.
Most schools will have afterschool help for your child. So, if your child is struggling in a class, call the school or their teacher, and figure out how to get your child affordable help. The school wants to see your child succeed, and they’ll work with you to figure out a plan to make that happen.
Similarly, if you child is struggling with a mental health issue, don’t ignore it. Yes, teenagers can be moody. But there is a big difference between normal moodiness and depression or anxiety.
If you don’t know what is happening emotionally with your teen, have a heart-to-heart talk with your child. If that doesn’t work, have your child speak with a school counselor or psychologist. Kids often will spill their feelings more easily to a stranger rather than to a parent.
Admittedly, as parents, we don’t want to think of our kids as being mentally fragile or needing therapy. And we may not want our friends and family members to know that our children have mental health issues. But this isn’t about our feelings, as parents. This is about getting our children every last bit of help that they need in order to successfully get through the teen years.
So, don’t let your kids flounder. Be proactive. If you see your child struggling, hop on the issue. Your child’s life will be so much easier if you aggressively address any issues that arise.
2. Be boring.
When kids become teenagers, parents typically hit middle age. And, unfortunately, I see many middle-aged parents trying to relive their youth by attempting to be cool or interesting. But that is not what your teens need from you.
Kids want parents who are stable. Your teen may call you “boring” with an eyeroll, but I can assure you that being boring is the highest compliment that your teenager can pay you. Being boring means only one thing to teenagers: My mom or dad is reliable.
No kid wants a middle-aged dad who rides a motorcycle, or a 40-something mom who goes out every Thursday for “Wine Night” with her girlfriends. Kids want parents who go to church (or some place of worship) once a week. They want parents who make corny jokes and wear age-appropriate clothing. In short, kids want parents who are normal.
The challenge is that middle-aged parents are susceptible to going off the deep end. They are halfway through life and facing their own mortality. And they are lamenting all the things that they didn’t do in their youth.
And then these parents get this genius idea: “I can do all the things that I should have done when I was 20 right now, even though I am 50!” Except it isn’t a genius idea. Because your 20s are over, and your opportunity to be cool has passed. And now you only have one job – to be a good parent. And that means being a parent who is reliable, stable, normal, and yes, boring.
3. Be your teen's "go to" person.
If your teenager has a problem, you should be the first person that they run to. If they are getting their advice from their peers or their siblings, that is a problem. Because then, your child effectively is being raised by other children. And if you have ever read “The Lord of the Flies,” you know how well that goes.
Children need adult guidance. They need your guidance. But they aren’t going to come to you for help, if they are worried about your reaction.
Your job as a parent is to keep a cool head no matter what the circumstance. You need to be a rock for your kids. If you freak out at the smallest bump in the road, your kids can’t come to you for help.
For example, recently, my daughter hit a parked car as she was backing out of a parking spot. The damage was minor – a small scrape. But she was completely distraught when she came home after the incident.
Now there are a lot of reactions that you can have when your kid swipes a car. You can get mad. You can be upset. You can complain about how your insurance rates are going to go up. Or you can do what I did and say, “Don’t worry about it. No one was hurt. Just give me as much information as you can, and we’ll handle it with the insurance company. It’s not a big deal. These things happen.”
And I truly wasn’t upset. I felt sorry for her because she was overwhelmed by the experience. She just felt so badly about it. And it was my job, as a parent, to handle it, and to take some of the pressure of the experience off her.
The more your respond in a controlled and comforting way when bad things happen, the more comfortable your teens will feel in coming to you with both their big and small problems. Your children need to see you as a person who is in control. That means eliminating the drama.
There are lots of people who are negative, or who get easily overwhelmed by the smallest problem. They don’t make good parents. Good parents don’t complain. They don’t freak out. They handle problems with as little emotion as possible. If your kids see you handling your problems in a reserved and level-headed manner, they will see you as someone who they can turn to with any issue.
Consider using the above approaches to make your children’s teen years successful ones. The teen years are tough for both parents and kids, but they also are incredibly important. If you can get your children through this period with a high level of self-esteem, good morals and sound judgment, it will be your greatest accomplishment in life. And one day, when your children are adults, they will thank you for it.