I am hoping/praying you will consider devoting a few blog posts to the whole mystery of parenting a teenager.  My oldest is 15 and we are entering uncharted territory.  I would like to know your “guidelines/rules” on such things as dating, curfews, school dances/formals, places they are able to go with their friends (without parental supervision).  Your comment of “the big kids are long-gone with their friends” {this post} got me wondering how you handle all of these situations.

I’ve been asked a bunch of questions about teenagers lately and I know there are many much more qualified “in-the-trenches” of teenagerhood mothers who I hope will pipe in, but here are some answers from me.

I think having teenagers is like being on a roller coaster.  There are definite highs and lows, but boy, the ride is a thrill.  As I said back in this post, I never knew how much fun teenagers could be.  I adore them with my whole heart spilling over.

But before I go on gushing, let me say that it’s hard to remember a time my heart has ached more than when it does with worry for these guys.  The responsibility as a parent becomes so tangible as their decisions and friends and actions start to mean so much more and have bigger consequences.  They are so much more accountable and it is so difficult to find the balance between nagging and praising.

For what it’s worth, these are things I have noticed so far that make a difference with raising teenagers:

1)  TALK and COMMUNICATE as much as possible.  Open any avenues for discussion.  This takes some work with surly, eye-rolling teenagers.  Figure out the right times to talk (I have found that our avenues tend to open most late at night or right after school…right when I’m either super-duper tired or with rings of commotion circling around me).  I think almost daily about this book
(How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk) that sits battered and torn because I read over and over again when my kids were young and apply it all to teenagers.  Remember that if you want your kids to open up to you they have to feel love (see #4 for more on that).

2)  Follow through with “consequences” you set up clearly together and be a “durable object” (I talked about that a little in the second question in this post, and also the last question in this post).  Teenagers need someone to be firm and not let them get away with dumb stuff they really do know better about.  (Dave is an expert at this BTW and I’m so grateful because sometimes I’m a pushover.)  

Note that I stressed the word “together” up there.  If they help come up with consequences for getting out of line that means they have helped discuss that there should even be a “line” and they will know when they have crossed it.

3)  Teach them to look for others they can help.  There is nothing that helps a teenager more in a world of social media bombardment and sometimes-self-wallowing-loneliness than to look for those who may need a friend or even just a smile.  It’s so natural for teenagers to be incredibly self-absorbed…it’s just part of adolescence.  But oh how great it is when they feel like their load is heavy to lift up their heads and realize they can help others who may be even more in the depths of despair than they seem to be.  Dave and I recently saw the movie “The Way Way Back” which really hit me in a lot of ways.  I told our kids about the main character “Duncan” while fighting back tears the next day and how just even one person looking out for him (a few more in the end) made his whole entire life.  Now we constantly tell our kids to “Look for the Duncans” at school.  

They are there.  

And they need even something as little as a smile.

4)  Love them with all your heart.  Look for the good things they do rather than harping on the bad ones.  Every now and then I still write the first initial of the things my 6’5″ son towering over me does on the end of his fingertips (back here).  Sure, he wipes those things off lickety-split, but he glows while I write them.  

Don’t forget physical touch.  Big kids still need it.  Give those tall/angular bodies who sometimes repel affection hugs whenever you can.  

So as for the “guidelines/rules” asked about on things like dating, curfews, etc. what I said in #1 holds through for all those:  communication is key.  We talk all those things out with the kids.  We hold strong to the Strength of Youth pamphlet our church has made up on standards HERE (I love that thing).  We talk about WHY we believe in those guidelines.  We make up new guidelines for things all the time (our latest is our technology contract back HERE)  I promise I’ll go into more detail about some of those things soon, but for now here are some other teenager links:

Also on teenagers, there’s a post with notes from a women’s conference talk I attended that I think about ALL the time here:

And another post about teenager boys here:

**My sister and I had fun doing a podcast about teenagers this week that she posted on Power of Moms HERE.  

One last thought that I had to remind myself of just this morning (and also shared in the podcast) is this quote:

“…If we are to search for real light and eternal certainties, we have to pray as the ancients prayed.  We are women now, not children, and we are expected to pray with maturity.  The words most often used to describe urgent, prayerful labor are wrestle, plead, cry, and hunger.  In some sense, prayer may be the hardest work we ever will engage in, and perhaps it should be.”  
–Patricia Holland

So very true.  I often have to remind myself Dave and I have a partner in this parenting business who knows these kids even better than we do.

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  1. How do we submit a question for Friday Q&A? Because I'd love for you to answer a question of mine! I am going to be a new mom! And I am trying to prepare a home for this child to come to. I know your family has a lot of traditions and routines. What traditions did you start when they were young? Or which do you wish you would have started?

  2. Love having teenagers as well. They're a riot. The little journal I kept of the hilarious things my babies said and did… I'm still writing in it.

    The hardest thing I'm finding (but the most important to actually do, if I look at how various young 'uns I used to know turned out as adults)… is backing off. Not interfering. Letting them chart their own course, solve their own problems,make a few mistakes while they still have an easy safe-haven to come back to. Maybe commissioning someone else to chip in with a bit of guidance if it's really needed (Can't wait for son's sports studies course to cover nutrition… sigh).

    It's hard not to interfere when we have so much more life experience than they do, but I've seen youngsters knocked right off course because their parents tried to get them to do what *they* thought was best for them, and the youngster just didn't have the motivation to follow through with Mum and Dad's plans. Or adults who are still way too dependent on their parents because Mum has always solved their problems for them. So right now my tongue hurts because I have to bite it so much 🙂

    The best book I've read on teens is by Anthony E Wolf; it's published under different titles in different countries but in the US it's called 'Get out of my life but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall'. Very funny and realistic.

  3. Thank you for this post and your wise words. I also can say amen to the above comment.

    I find I want to fix everything, when I really need to let them spread their wings and learn from their mistakes. It's about THEM after all and less about ME.

    There's plenty I don't know but a few select things I'm absolutely sure of…my kids are amazing and we are not alone in raising them.

    Thank heavens (literally) for that!

  4. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I really need this right now. I have 2 daughters and 2 sons ages 20, 17, 12, and 7. I'll tell you what, some days are tough emotionally but I love them all so much and want to be the best Mom ever. 🙂

  5. Perfect timing for me, my oldest became a teenager TODAY! I posted a little tribute to him on my blog today and asked for advice, but really, I love that book (how to listen) too, and he is SO amazing, and I am LOVING teenage-hood so far, but it is a challenge to find a good balance, too! THanks for your thoughts!!

  6. I love reading your blog so much because you are a couple of years ahead of me. I have 5 as well, opposite of you 4 boys, 1 girl ages 3-14. Your advice and wisdom is so real and down to earth and POSITIVE. Thank you so much for sharing, you are helping my family so much.

  7. I am far from having teenagers (or not so far, if you ask any of the admirable women around me who already have them :), but I do still have younger teenage siblings at home. It makes me think about this a lot. I often reflect on the way I raise my own kids to prepare them for teenage-hood. As I watch the struggles my own mom has with the teenagers she mothers from a new perspective, that of a parent, I often feel overwhelmed at the task that lies soon before me. Today it reminded me of this quote I read from C.S. Lewis:
    "My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants. They might in some respects act even worse. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be 'cured' against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
    This may be a too strong a case when applied to teenagers, please remember I don't have any, and will likely feel much different than I do now about having them, but it may apply.
    Even with only a 5 year old I have noticed that because I feel responsible for him and always want what's "good for him" I sometimes act for him, or push too hard to get him to choose what I would choose. As parents, I think our job is to watch, and help and inspire; not chart courses for our children.

    So much easier said than done!

  8. you are a rockstar!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ok, I have a question, PLEASE PLEASE can you help!

    I have girls aged just 10, and nearly 8, and Christmas is going to kill me, I am sure!!! They have ipod touches, or tablets, on their lists, now putting $$$ aside, I am having a really hard time with it. They just seem so young to have such items, but I also don't want to be that mom!!! I just don't know what kids this age really need… what are your rhoughts on this for your girls???

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