Don’t get me wrong, I have good kids. I trust them. I adore them. But I want to keep that relationship strong to help weather the storms that will most undoubtedly come. I want to be on the offensive rather than the defensive. Teenagers can certainly seem like a daunting task, so I want to be as prepared as possible from the get-go.
How to Prepare for the Foreign Land of Teenagers
I’ve been thinking about preparing for teenagers enough that the other day I pulled out some notes I took at Women’s Conference last year…the ones from a particular talk that I think about all the time. The speakers were Adriane Gill and John Bytheway, and they were good.
They said some things that really affected me. In fact, after reading over them I’ve stopped myself a couple times in particular situations and taken a different, better route of action simply because I was thinking of those tips they gave.
So I’m gonna share them. We could all use a little offense, right? So here you go:
1) Do your homework.
(I loved this one.) Don’t expect heartfelt, meaningful conversations if you don’t put the effort in. Connection doesn’t generally just happen, it takes work and communication and trying from all different angles. Be prepared with thoughtful, pertinent questions specific to that child’s needs. Know each of your child’s specific interests (and realize that yes, they most probably are different than yours gosh darn it!), and embrace them. Figure out the best times to talk to them whether it’s late at night or during carpools, and also the way they will most likely open up. I found that standing side-by-side worked best for my first teenager, not face-to-face, whether doing the dishes together or driving in the car. Get curious about how they tick.
Remember, if something is important to those teenagers, make it important to you! Work your day around them. You are the mother and that is your #1 job…plan ahead.
2) Be quick to show compassion and slow to judge.
Nothing cuts off conversation more quickly than judgment. LISTEN or you will short-circuit future conversations. You won’t get to know the deep-downs of your teenager if you aren’t actively listening. I believe that is an art to be cultivated. Instead of jumping in with advice or ideas when they are trying to tell you something, just offer a “hmmm…” or “uh huh,” or “oh really? tell me more about that.” These phrases help you try to understand which is so important before you seek to be understood. Being judgmental and also even stepping in with quick solutions will stop your child from bringing worries or concerns to you in the future…they won’t want to “let you down.” Change doesn’t come through criticism. Use words like “wow,” “really,” and “how does that make you feel?” (Love that part too.)
We need to evaluate what incentive we give our kids to really talk.
3) Demonstrate patience and respect…Ask before offering advice.
Don’t have ulterior motives in what you say. This is so hard because boy, do we ever want to shovel advice into these teens! It’s our one chance to teach them, right? But I have learned that we can teach so much better through example than through word. Especially by the time they’re teenagers. They’ve heard us for years by then and know what we think. Once again, quality conversations don’t happen without listening. I have found it’s great to ask permission to share thoughts, and also to ask them for advice. Advice about how to parent them better or how to understand their interests more.
4) Find chances to point them toward Christ.
Don’t put yourself between spirituality and your teenager. They are the ones who need to develop their own relationship with Jesus. Help them have that relationship. When they have a tough choice or circumstance, have them write down their own list of pros and cons, and go through the work it takes to make a good decision, but ask if they’ve prayed about it. Teach them to what source they should ultimately go for help.
5) Don’t avoid technology.
It’s not going away. It can be a tool or a weapon, and if we choose to, we can make it a great tool. Take out time to monitor and teach your teenager appropriate ways to handle technology. (Cell phone, texting etiquette, etc.). Consider setting up a family technology contract to make sure everyone is on the same page as to the best way to use technology in your home.
In summary, parenting is practicing the art of “letting go.” Help kids become “self-directed.” Help them make good decisions…don’t make them for them. And most importantly, listen.
John Bytheway used this quote I love:
and never formed to glisten–
but he was a joy to all his friends,
You should have heard him listen.