I am not an expert on teenagers. I do have three of them though, and they have taught me so much about parenting, relating, and laughing at myself. Teens have a wonderful way of humbling us because they see through all the hypocrisy straight to who we are and aren’t afraid to mention it. They love us and want relationship, but none of us seem to know the right way to get there. Family dynamics are unique, and what works for your best friend’s family may not translate to yours at all. That’s why I think it’s important to know yourself, know your kids, and take notes along the way.
Here are some of my “parenting teens” notes that I have scribbled down over the years. Maybe some of these will help you be the mom that you want to be. If they don’t resonate, pull out a bullet journal and write down your three or more ways to be the best mom of teens that you can be. We need to remind ourselves of what works and what matters because it’s easy to forget!
Less Manager, More Mentor
There comes a point in our mothering journeys where we realize we are parenting a young adult and not a child anymore. This is an important passage. It is easy for us to keep telling our teens what to do, when to do it, controlling their every move. Checking in with them constantly. Controlling their clothing, tastes, music, and attempts at individuality.
Here’s a note: Teens resent being controlled. They want to be respected, to make some of their own choices, and to feel like their parents trust them. Many times we control them because we are racked with fear. We fear their making bad choices, we fear uncomfortable consequences, and we fear failure. And for sure there are areas where we need to draw hard lines, enforce strong boundaries, and stay firm in our authority. But a lot of the time, we don’t need to. We need to let our kids try and fail while they are still at home. We need to stand back and let them make choices. We need to resist receiving their failures as a reflection on our mothering. We need to let them be their own person, not an extension of ourselves.
Teens love to have mentors. They actually like adults and input. Mentors stand back, and coach when asked. They don’t give off the fear-vibe but offer steady presence. Mentors help others make their own choices. They listen well and resist controlling the other person. They cheerlead, ask good questions, and trust. Mistakes are fine because they embrace a growth mindset and know that the young adult can grow and change from failures.
Less Chaos, More Chill
I am super awesome at over-reacting. I startle easily and have a highly sensitive nervous system. Stressful situations hit my nerves quickly, and I can have strong physiological and emotional reactions almost immediately. I am learning how to better accomodate my sensory issues, but growth + learning + healing takes time! All of this to say, a middle-age mom with PMS/perimenopausal issues living with budding teenagers with hormonal issues can be a recipe for ALL THE FEELS.
Here’s a note: Teens resent overreactive parenting. And it is very easy to be that parent. Especially with your firstborn when you haven’t walked this path before. We don’t know what’s normal, what should be confronted, what should be let go of. We are learning a new parenting language and we all know that foreign languages take time and practice. We aren’t going to nail this parenting thing, and like our teens, we will make a lot of mistakes and need to offer a lot of apologies.
Learn to listen and not react immediately. The best response to a teen even if you are livid or frustrated or merely annoyed is to be chill. Our fears and overreactions can tempt our teens to hide things from us. Take the situation in stride. Give yourself time to process and to formulate responses. Learn to be chill over their music, movie preferences, clothing choices. Give calm input from a place of friendship with them not from a morality police/fear/shame place. Challenge their choices with: “I am not trying to tell you that this is right or wrong. I want to explore with you, ‘Is this wise?'”
Ask curious questions. Have conversations rather than mandates. Open up the communication channels constantly, and work hard not to shut them down through your own emotional chaos, fears, and ideals. It’s not easy, but we surrender our hearts, fears, and concerns to the Lord and beg for wisdom to parent in love.
Less Isolated, More Integrated
Our culture is deeply generationally-divided. There has been incredible technological, global, and political changes over the past 50 years that have formed and shaped the unique mindsets of each generation. Boomers are different from Gen-X from Millenials and beyond. We have allowed these differences to isolate us from each other often with judgment and suspicion.
I think it is valuable and important to understand the generation your teenager is in and to learn from them. This generation is experiential, participatory (they support what they help create), and their current language is image-rich through social media. Learn their language. Don’t stay stuck in the mindset of your own upbringing, but enter into their world learning pop culture references, current music, newly released movies, the latest social media outlet. Let them teach you about this new world. You will grow and have greater access points for connecting and knowing one another deeply. The point is not “trying to be cool” or being a weirdo, but to be open to learning new things and exploring them in community with your teens. Doing this will make all of us better, wiser mentors and relatable. And we will be surprised to find where God is working and the art mediums He uses to reach His people.
I didn’t know what to expect in the teen years. But so far, it’s my favorite parenting stage! It is not a season to dread or to fear, but to embrace with a heart of humility, grace, and openness. We learn to pray, trust, and talk about things that we never thought we could. We confront our own junk and problems. It’s a crucible of growth for all, but experiencing it all together is an absolute honor and privilege. It’s messy and hilarious, frustrating and tiring, sweet and annoying all at once. Parenting teens is the raw, real life, a good, authentic life that we all deep-down crave and long for. We are watching the emergence of identity, calling, and life! Amazing.