by Amanda Porter
To all my fellow parents of teenagers:
Pinterest plays mind games on parents, doesn’t it?
During pre-pregnancy and pregnancy stages, Pinterest offers up photos of elaborate gender reveals, stunning nursery decor, balloon-covered baby showers, and delicate bassinets. Pinterest makes parenting seem very shiny and glamorous, with plenty of downtime for crafting clever letterboard sayings and taking photos to keep loved ones updated on baby’s month-to-month growth. (I’m so pleased that this platform wasn’t around when I was pregnant with my first child, Alex, who will be 13 in March.)
But what about when the baby becomes almost as tall as you?
What about those pre-teen and teen years?
These lives grow into beings who have their very own opinions.
Pinterest doesn’t like to show how these precious little lives will grow into beings who have their very own opinions. These little souls are growing up to make choices and decisions that don’t always align with what I, as the parent, believe to be the right thing. Sometimes in the arguments and the eye-rolling, I don’t even recognize my son. And then sometimes I absolutely do, because I realize the worst parts of him are actually the worst parts of me.
By no means do I have all the answers, but I am learning daily. I’m only 13 years into this parenting gig, but here’s what I know so far:
Helicopter parents are dangerous.
When bumps in the road arise, I’m not serving my child by hijacking the situation. I must stop attending to every detail on my kid’s behalf. If there’s an emotional conflict, my kid must learn to self-soothe and resolve. I think many of us have the idea that we want to make it better for our kids than it was for us. While this is a noble value, our goal should not be to make our kids as comfortable as possible. As Brené Brown lovingly teaches us, “Hope is a function of struggle.” When our kids leave our house, the world will not be comfortable. My whole job as a parent is to prepare them to leave the home and live in the world.
Teens need boundaries and consequences.
They need to hear the word no. Raising our kids in a world of yes only primes them for an easy, struggle-free life. This world we are living in can be cold and caustic. We are failing our teenagers when we create a soft life for them. Boundaries go hand-in-hand with making good decisions. While poor decisions do not define us and can be forgiven, often consequences are lasting, and for good reason. Our teens are lacking the fully developed decision-making part of their brain (prefrontal cortex). This equals poor decision-making skills. Stopping to consider potential future outcomes of a decision is a skill that can be taught.
Having their own space helps.
When conflict arises, a kid needs a space to retreat where they can regroup and refocus and be still. Not every family has the luxury of a home where all the children have their own bedrooms. This is OK. But consider creating a space within the home that each kid can call their own. A retreat. A safe place where they can be alone with their thoughts, where they can cool off before returning to the family center.
I cannot be responsible for my teen’s entertainment all the time.
We are, of course, in an era where technology is abundant. Such accessibility has resulted in my kids having a very low threshold for boredom. I must resist the urge to be party planner. Boredom so often leads to creativity. Empty space leads to great ideas.
Family dinners do not make or break a kid.
I think we’ve got it wrong when we assume regular family dinners automatically equal close, intimate relationships. This is not a secret formula (family dinners = stable kids). Because it’s not about the food—it’s about the conversations that happen around the table. And since conversations can happen anywhere, not just the dining room, let’s make them happen.
A teen needs faith in something and someone. However, while I know in my heart the importance of a walk with Christ, I cannot make this decision for my kids. My kids might one day stray from the Church for a time. I must not panic about this. If I believe everything I say I do, this shouldn’t scare me.
Clearly, teenagers are not as affectionate as they once were, with their brisk in-and-out while eyes are glued to their phones. Hug them anyway. Make eye contact with them anyway. Fifteen seconds (although it may be somewhat manufactured) will lead to chemical and hormonal releases that lead to parent-child bonding.
Calm communication is oh-so important.
Communication skills are life skills. The earlier in life I start teaching these, the more successful I’m setting my kids up to be. Often when there is an issue with my almost-teenage son, there is a superficial aspect and a deeper root. We must get to the root of conflict through calm communication. For example, when Alex comes to me wanting a $120 pair of Michael Jordans and I decline to buy these, this could lead to some yelling and drama. Whereas a deeper conversation with him would tell me that he wants new brand-name shoes because a classmate made fun of his Vans. The story I was making up is: he’s ungrateful, he’s materialistic. But the reality is: it’s not really about the shoes; it’s about the bullying.
Assign chores. When older, give an allowance.
It’s helpful and necessary for kids to learn the value of money, how to earn and spend, and how to shop and interact with retail environments. It also makes it easier to turn down any requests for superfluous things by saying, “If it’s important enough to you, you’ll save your allowance for this.”
Be up front and clear about tough topics.
In an age-appropriate manner, discuss real issues such as porn, drugs, self-harm, and sex. Our kids are learning about these issues by first grade from their peers. As parents, we must get a jump-start on creating the narrative of what healthy choices look like, and how these crucial issues must be handled as they get older.
My entire identity cannot be a mother.
While it is one of the greatest things I am tasked with as a woman, motherhood is a thankless job where I am always second-guessing myself. My kids will mess up because they are human and this is what humans do. This does not mean I have failed. This does not indicate that they will grow up to be failures. Having other pursuits that lead to life fulfillment rounds out my role as a mother.
I am not perfect.
I have and will screw things up because I’ve never raised a teenager before. I mess up. I apologize. We move on. I’m trying to model the behavior of what to do when you make a mistake. I want my kids to learn that the bigger they mess up, the faster they can run home to us. I want my kids to know that our house is not a place of perfection. Sometimes we slam doors. Sometimes we scream and stomp. But we always forgive, and we always love.
posted on February 12, 2018
Meet the Author:
Amanda Porter is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner, practicing at the nationally renowned Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, Ohio. She's also an introvert and writer who likes to talk about faith, hope, and recovery. She is currently working toward a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She teaches workshops on Mental Health and Anxiety at her home church, WhiteWater Crossing. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two kids.