Parenting Your Teen: A Return to the Basics

As our children grow and change, so do the demands on our parenting.  This is particularly so with the onset of adolescence.  Even parents who have enjoyed close and satisfying relationships with their children, often observe some unsettling changes.  The days of baking together, providing satisfactory answers to their many "why's," and saving the day with a trip to the park are seemingly absent. Left in this place, are adolescent bodies tucked behind head phones, iPads, and a bedroom door that is more often closed than open.  In spite of these changes, parents remain an extremely important figure in the life of their teen, providing stability in the face of turbulence, affirmation in the face of insecurity, and guidance in the face of confusion. That is, if we can avoid getting derailed by our own all-too-common experiences of frustration, confusion, defensiveness, and loss that go along with parenting a teen.  One of the best ways to stay on track during this season is to revisit some basics. Reflecting on your own parenting, how are you doing with the following?

Are you a safe person to your child?  Do you typically respond in a calm fashion or are you more likely to react from a place of heightened emotions?

Are you a good listener?  Do you reflect back what you hear and ask for clarification?  Do you observe body language and other non-verbal signs of communication? Do you use feeling words to label what you see? (“You seem discouraged.  What’s going on?”)

Do you collaborate with your teen by actively pursuing their thoughts and perspectives?  -OR- Do you force-feed them solutions forfeiting opportunities to solve problems together?

Are you a teacheror a teller?  Are you teaching your son or daughter how to become wise so that they can listen to the “voice inside their head” or are you raising a compliant child who simply follows the various voices “outside their head” such as teachers, parents, and peers?

Do you lovinglycorrect behavior without placing a negative label on the person?  -OR- Do accusations such as lazy, selfish, klutzy, annoying, loud, or loner too easily slip out?

Do you show your son or daughter plenty of physical affection? Hugs and appropriate touch continue to be an important way to express love and reassurance to your growing teen.

Does your son or daughter know what you like about them?  Do you offer frequent compliments and verbal affirmations of their skills, effort, and influence?

Do you encourage your son or daughter to try new things and discuss mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow?

Do you actively monitor your children?  Do you know where they are and who they are with?  Do you take the time to get to know their friends?  Do you seek to minimize unsupervised time?

Do you schedule intentional family time such as special meals, activities, or outings?  Are you able to eat dinner together most nights?

Are you taking good care of yourself and your relationships?  Do you take regular time for rest, relaxation, and connection with your spouse and/or adult friends?

Have you established and maintained a supportive network of extended “family” – those who support you, understand you, and love your children?  Family life is too hard to do alone!

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A New Mindset

A "2" in math! How could that be? He's such a bright young boy. This doesn't make any sense!

The teacher confessed, she's a very quiet little girl. She prefers to be with me. She has a hard time interacting with the other children.

If you are a parent, the details may be different, but the feeling is all-too-familiar: Panic!

The distance between a life hiccup and the anticipated failure of our child to graduate college is alarmingly short in our hair-triggered minds. This is especially so at two in the morning when our thoughts race and sleep evades us. 

One of the reasons we get into such trouble is that we are being enticed by a "fixed mindset." We struggle to tolerate challenges, problems, or limitations with our children, because we fear that this will be the final word.

Is it possible that those anxious thoughts and sleepless nights could be assuaged by better ways of thinking about our children's abilities? A "growth mindset" is the belief that traits are malleable and humans are capable of growing. A growth mindset gets us back on track. It reminds us that the ability to tackle a challenge and to persist through difficulty is the essential fuel for the engine of success. 

Check out this great TED talk on some very interesting findings regarding a growth mindset. And next time you're feeling seduced into a place of worry, take a deep breath and remember this: Your children cannot know courage, persistence, or resilience apart from difficulty!

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