I’ll say it again: I love spending my days with teen-agers. Maybe I am a little crazy (which helps when dealing with teens), but there are so many things to enjoy about them! Here are some helpful resolutions to get your new year of parenting teens off to a good start:
Remember that they’re halflings. They’re starting to look like adults in a taller, gangly, hairier way. Sometimes they even sound like adults, especially when they question you in unexpected ways (“Why do we even go to Aunt Lulu’s house when you complain about her all the time?”) And they certainly want to be treated like adults, except on their birthdays or when there are chores to do. But the reality is they’re still a work in process, and a good portion of what you see is still a child, clinging to childish behaviors and attitudes. You and I know some of those never go away; admit it—you still want your own way as often as possible. It’s how we deal with those attitudes that changes, and that’s what you need to teach and model to your teen.
Have more Seinfeld moments. In other words, laugh about nothing, but laugh together. We laugh often in my classroom. Sometimes it’s me being funny, like when I respond to a cry of “Unfair!” with “That’s MRS. Unfair to you.” Sometimes it’s the students: “Your grandpa is in rehab? Is he a drug addict?” (No—he had a hip replaced.) Think about your best memories with good friends and how many involved laughing—possibly until you couldn’t breathe. Create some of those memories with your kids, and you’ll treasure them long into their adult years.
Make more eye contact. Check your own screen time before ranting about your teen’s. When you’re in a conversation and your phone buzzes, ignore it and maintain eye contact. You’ll make a huge statement about how much you value what’s being said—and who’s saying it! Close your laptop, put your tablet to sleep, or mute the TV when your teen is talking to you, and you’ll get better results when you expect the same behavior. Require some meals be device-free, whether at home or in a restaurant, and be the first to model turning your phone off (not just silencing it).
Dethrone the homework god. No, I don’t mean your teens should stop doing schoolwork (all of my teen readers just groaned), but do try to keep it from becoming the Most Important Topic, the one all your conversations center around: “You’ve been home for seven minutes; why haven’t you started your homework?” or “You’re just sitting there doing nothing; don’t you have any homework?” Yes, grades do matter, but everyone needs balance in their lives, including students. Make an effort to communicate that you care about more than just homework.
Do more. . .and less. Listen more, play more, negotiate more. Nag less, criticize less, yell less. In short, practice more positive responses and fewer negative ones. Your teen is watching you and learning from you how to be an adult. It’s more important than ever to model respect, kindness, patience, manners. . .all the behaviors you hope to see in your child as an adult.
Listen with your heartphones. When your toddler threw a tantrum, you knew whether she was mad, scared, or just tired, despite what she said. Tune into that frequency with your teen and try to see what’s behind his outburst. There’s a good chance that the attack (“Why do you always pick on me?”) is masking embarrassment, frustration, or just a horrible, no good, bad day. For best results, under-react: say nothing for several seconds, give a non-committal “Huh,” or offer food. Often whatever it is will blow over, but if you suspect there’s a bigger issue, allow some recovery space and then gently make your presence known. Be ready to listen without interrupting or judging. Communicate how much you care.
Stop and smell. . . whatever. From the time your child was a toddler, you’ve been dreading the Adolescent Years, and now that they’re here you can’t wait for them to pass. Teens are impulsive, loud, moody, smelly (Axe Spray can be even worse than sweat), unpredictable, exasperating—and fascinating. So much change happens so quickly—both inside and out—that you’ll want to take mental snapshots to remember it all when they’ve gone off to college or moved out. Because when that day arrives, you’ll wonder where the time went.