Making a Difference in Your Teen’s Life

Parenting teens is so different than parenting younger children. Parenting young children involves teaching them about the world, giving them boundaries, and keeping them safe. The older they get, the more parents learn about who their child is and what their child needs to grow into adulthood. Home can provides a place where teens can talk about their day and ask questions in a safe environment. In that way, parents try to provide the scaffolding and unconditional love that allows their teen to take healthy risks and learn from their experiences.

Recently, a parenting professional by the name of Laura Kaine sent out a YouTube video called “You are Special” by Nick Vujicic. A few years ago, I saw another presentation of his. He was speaking to high school students about never giving up. In this presentation, he gave the message that if he could do the things he does with no limbs, they should be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to. This message leaves us with the reality that our teens must choose to put their mind to it. When teen are struggling to make that choice, parents have to try to stay in relationship and support their teen as much as possible.

Of course, parents are not unaware of the power of peers. Who your teen chooses to spend time with provides another context for information. Sometimes it is the parent’s role to intervene when that information is either inaccurate or creating an unsafe environment for their teen. It is important to remember that even though it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed, parenting is involves conveying unconditional love, providing appropriate boundaries, and having lots of conversations. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get it right all the time because we are all human. But, as much as possible parents can try to have an open dialogue with their teen instead of lecturing them.

Check out this video about the impact of parents …. it is inspiring! AND continue to remember that you really do make a difference.

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What are the Consequences & What Happens If They Don’t Work?

As parents, we know our teens are going to make mistakes. Sometimes these are small mistakes, and other times they are pretty big mistakes….mistakes that fill our souls with fear for our teen. What comes of these mistakes can vary, but one thing is for sure…eventually there are consequences for their actions. Consequences can take many forms. They can happen naturally or they can be imposed on teens by parents, teachers, administrators, or other authorities. They can be immediate, or they can be the result of events that take place over several months or longer.

You have probably heard the term natural consequences. In their purest form, natural consequences don’t require any intervention. For example, a boy who is running through the hall at school falls and hurts himself, or a girl who is being mean to a friend is ignored during lunch time. That sounds simple enough, right? The problem lies in the fact that our teens do not always get natural consequences for their actions. In fact, sometimes they are rewarded instead! Maybe the boy who ran through the hall gets the best presentation time because he got to the sign-up sheet first, or the girl who was mean to a friend is flooded with affection by the other girls who want her attention. What if natural consequences don’t work?

When consequences don’t naturally happen, parents try to instill logical consequences. These are consequences that make sense, or match the behavior that is being discouraged. When a boy “borrows” the car without asking, he loses driving privileges for a period of time. When a girl posts something inappropriate on her Facebook wall, she loses access to her account for a period of time. Experts suggest giving logical consequences as often as possible. Again, that sounds simple enough, right? Not always! Sometimes the logical consequence does not come to us, or we simply react with whatever comes to mind first. Your daughter fails to turn in her homework and you give her extra chores, or your son misses his curfew and you take away his cell phone. The consequences don’t really match the behavior.

How can you get better at using logical consequences? One option is to allow the natural consequence to happen, even when it is difficult for you as the parent. For example, let the daughter that isn’t turning in homework get the grade she earns. As hard as it is, this can create an opportunity for discussion around how she feels and what she would do differently. She will have to own it completely. When we as parents take responsibility for their grades, they don’t have to own their choices. Another option is to ask your teen what he/she thinks the consequence should be. Often, their consequence will make sense and be harsher than the one you would have given. This allows you to talk less and listen more. Asking questions like, “What do you think we should do” or “How are we going to handle this? can get them engaged. Finally, make it clear when there isn’t a choice. Every family has their own beliefs and values that set the foundation for how the family works.

What can you do if the consequence doesn’t work?

  • Ask yourself if the consequence fit the misbehavior. The farther the consequences get from the behavior, the less likely they are to work.
  • Give yourself some time. Don’t feel pressured to give an immediate consequence; sometimes you have to think about it for a while. Tell your teen how you are feeling and set a time to talk about it in the near future.
  • Search for the natural consequence and ask yourself if you are willing to let it happen.  While these are not always immediately apparent, they can surface when you take time to think.
  • Consider timing. Making decisions in the heat of the moment can be difficult or lead to impulse reactions. Give yourself, and/or your teen the necessary time to calm down.
  • Remove the anger. Say how you feel or how you imagine this makes your teen feel.  You can empathize and be kind at the same time that you give a consequence.
  • Establish respect. Make sure your teen knows you are upset with the behavior, but still accepts him/her.
  • Encourage positive behavior. Try to catch your teen being “good” by acknowledging when they are helpful, caring, cooperative, and supportive.
  • Give yourself a break! This is hard work sometimes.

Are You the Best Parent You Can Be?

Parenting teenagers is like a delicate dance that requires a great deal of strength, fineness, passion, and humility. We often ask ourselves, “Am I being the best parent I can be?” Early in my career, a professor from a parenting course said, “Every parent is trying to be the best parent they can be.” I never forgot that! What did he mean? I found myself thinking things like, “Is every parent really the best parent he or she can be?” and “What about parents who abuse or neglect their children?” But, the professor went on to explain himself. He said, “A person’s parenting comes from two sources: how they were parented, and what they learned about parenting after they left their home.”  After they leave the home, parents learn from things like attending parenting classes, reading books, participating in parenting support groups, and having coffee with other parents who share the common goal of raising children. Each of these is largely led by our own desire to seek out new information and gain support from others who share in our experiences.

But, parenting is not that clear cut.  The relationship you have with your teen is also influenced by what your teen brings to the relationship. Teens introduce their own unique personalities and developing perspectives. Over time, they grow to become the person they are through the people with whom they spend their time, the neighborhood in which they live, the schooling available in their community, and the social and political climate of their times.  Ultimately, the parent-child relationship becomes its own entity, one that encapsulates all the knowledge, experience, and perspectives that both the parent and the teen bring to the relationship.

As teenagers develop their own independence and differentiate from their parents, they are faced with the fact that they still carry with them the voice of their parents. Herein lies the conflict.  Teens hear this voice, and may even agree with the voice. Still, they want to express their own unique self. For this reason, teens will sometimes do things that completely contradict their parents, or even themselves. Experts say that by the time they reach adulthood, most teens accept the voice of their parents as  part of their own. They are better able to recognize and appreciate parts of them that came from their parents, while also acknowledging and integrating their own knowledge. beliefs, and experiences.  This path can be long and mucky for everyone involved as each person tries to recognize and appreciate all three entities: the parent, the child, and the parent-child relationship.

Parenting is no easy task. It is a life long journey, and one that pushes our thinking and pulls at our heart strings.  Below are some ways to enhance the parent-child relationship:

  • Do some soul searching. Where do your parenting practices come from? What parenting styles are you most drawn to?
  • Read up on parenting practices, especially if you want to parent in ways that are different than your upbringing.
  • Find other parents that you can talk to, show support, and gain support from during this important time. This can give you new ideas, while also normalizing your experiences.
  • Share appropriate readings with your teen. This can put them at ease if they see you reading lots of parenting books.
  • Let your teen organize some activities to do together. This allows you to share in your teen’s expressions of self.
  • Set the boundaries, rules and expectations, but allow for individual expression within those boundaries. Sometimes the more we completely discourage something, the more teens want to do the very thing we are discouraging.
  • Embrace the ways in which your teen is different than you.
  • Understand that the parent-child relationship is ever-changing as both you and your teen learn and grow.

Happy Parenting,

Shelly