By Valerie Rice and Andrea Watson | September 28, 2020
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, a little princess and prince were born. They were the joy of the land, and every parent’s dream. Years later, after reality had settled in, puberty took over and the darling children were no longer recognizable. They had become…TEENAGERS! Oh no, what’s a Mom to do? Relax! It happens to everyone eventually. While the teenage years can be trying, there are a few needs that each one of these adorable and confusing humans has that differ from the sweet and compliant little kids they once were. Once you understand how these needs are different, you can make your parenting life easier. Adolescence, or what most people call the teenage years, actually starts around age 10 and continues until age 19. This is when that child of yours becomes an adult and what they desperately need is freedom.
This is not just a line from Braveheart, but a bonafide requirement. Freedom to grow, discover, explore, and solidify who they are. That’s a tall order for a ten-year-old, which is why it takes almost a decade to finish. It is also why the last thing they need is you micromanaging them. Hey, they used to need you to map out every detail of their existence; and sure, it was fun having every Friday night on the couch with their parents. But at this point it really just stunts their growth. While they should have been making their own choices in small doses for years, it is time to start making most of their own choices all the time. They need to learn how to do this because, believe it or not, decision making is a skill. They also need time to themselves. They love you and all, but this brings me to my next point. They need a social network.
Part of this growing up process is mastering social skills and learning conflict management. Having a wide variety of relationships, whether you approve of them or not, helps them learn these skills. Our kids are smart. Parents tend to forget that. We also tend to forget that the kids we raise have been looking to us and learning from our example since the day their little eyes could focus. Remember the first time you dropped a dresser on your toe and screamed the “F” word only to hear a tiny voice repeat it back? Yeah. They pay attention to everything, so if you think you know what’s best for your kid then you should probably trust them enough to know a little bit too. Choosing your child’s friends or forbidding them to see someone will always fail. Why? Because you, as a parent, do not live their life and can’t possibly control every waking moment. Especially where emotions are concerned. Isolating them from people is always a horrible idea. Kids need social interaction. They thrive on social relationships. This one of the most important aspects of human development- to gain a personal identity. Engaging with peers helps them create who they are through trial and error. It further defines their moral code. The time to establish their baseline was in the first 5, not at 15. So let them go, you will be pleasantly surprised.
Whoa, but didn’t I just say freedom? Yes, yes I did. Within reason. Some parents get into trouble by not balancing the amount of freedom their teenagers have with boundaries. Let me give you an example: Your child wants to go out on the weekend. The freedom portion comes from you allowing them to do so, ideally with their friends. This is where you come in. Ask them where they are going and what time they will be home. A fun kid is going to push the limit and stay out extra late. Or lie about where they are going. Cool. Your job is to set the curfew and hold them to it, as well as make sure they are honest about where they are going. But how? There’s an app for that. Teenagers are super creative when it comes to lying to avoid trouble. I like to use MMGuardian on my kids’ phones. It gives me updates on their exact location every 30 minutes. Since I am the one who pays the phone bill, I am the one who decides whether or not they get parental controls on their phones. Now. Let them leave and hope they screw it up. Why? Because they have another essential need: failure.
Why in the world would I want my child to fail? I must be spewing nonsense, this is the worst advice ever! Forget it, go back to controlling every aspect of that kid’s life. Hold on, hear me out. Failure is the best way to learn. Allowing your child to fail now will help them learn how to succeed later. Let’s go back to their weekend excursion. Not only did they stay out an hour past curfew, they also left town without telling you. So what do you do? Beat them silly and ground them for life? Hell no! Who wants an angry teenager in their house 24/7? No, that’s not going to be very helpful to anyone. Forbid them from seeing their friends? Well no, we talked about that, and that is doomed to fail. So what do we do? In the morning, when your wee hooligan wakes up, sit them down at the table and have a talk.
I like to start with “How was your night?” and let them lie themselves into a corner. Once they do, you can point out that no, they didn’t go to the movies, no they weren’t home on time, and I am pretty disappointed. Not only did they break the agreement we had but now you can’t trust them. Now they have to own their actions and you can allow them to own their consequences. They know they screwed up and now they know YOU know. So ask them what an appropriate consequence should be. Both of you together decide on one that satisfies you. And follow through. The more they fail, the more they learn.
So it isn’t going to be easy as pie. It will, however, be a lot less frustrating if you include your child in their upbringing. It will also be a lot less stressful if you allow your blossoming adolescent to shoulder their own responsibility. Heck, learning to be responsible is a big part of growing up, right? There are two things- mantras if you will, to repeat when the teenage years get tough. Are you ready? 1.) My job is to guide; not control. 2.) I will love them forever. Good. And good luck with those feisty little beasties! Be sure to stay tuned for part two of my teenager series!