I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to prepare for the foreign land of teenagers. It is a daunting prospect for most parents and I want to tackle it head-on. We’ve had it coming over here for a while: the moodiness, the sullen expressions, the completely irrational decisions…they’re inching in, little by little. The other day I caught a glimpse of teenager-hood in my eleven-year-old, and man alive, sometimes it seems that my eight-year-old is even closer than the others.

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:

His thoughts were low, his words were few,
and never formed to glisten–
but he was a joy to all his friends,
You should have heard him listen.

Isn’t that good stuff? I know there are so many great teen parents out there. So many great ways to try to prepare for this foreign land of teenagers! If you have any great pearls of wisdom please send them on over.

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  1. Thanks so much for this. I also have a 13 year-old son and an 11 year-old daughter (as well as younger ones). My son has been on the "sullen" side lately, and boy can my daughter get emotional. And boy does my son not understand my daughter's emotional side! Like yours, these are such good and responsible kids, and I am very proud of them. Your blog today was just what I needed to help me get through these sometimes frustrating teen years.

  2. Great stuff, all. One thing I've learned and am still trying to practice is "under-reacting." Kind of fits in with your #2. There are so many times I want to yell, or scream; I'm hopping mad or horrified, but if I can just "be cool" and under-react until I'VE had time to process the information, I can really have a more positive effect on whatever situation I'm dealing with. The key to the "under-react" is that you ARE going to act on it, you're not puting it off to be the "cool parent"; you're just not going to react without thinking calmly first. I've also found that *when* I do this (I told you! I'm still working!) and come back to them later, it makes them feel like I really take their problems seriously–and that I put some thoughtful time and effort into their concerns. (Of course, as parents, we are ALWAYS doing this, but alot of times, it goes unnoticed…)

  3. My kids are still little (7,5 and 4) but fear of future parenting has been gripping my heart lately. I am praying often about it. I am so glad to have found your blog….it is an encouragement. Going to use these tips to help lay a good foundation….love the quote.

  4. #2 is how i do it, WOW, REALLY…that is how i talk to my kids while the inside of my body is screaming, "HOLY CRAP". we have some amazing communication over here, some people think too much, i think i'm glad that they come to me always.

  5. We are going to have 5 kids in high school all at once, YIKES… I will take all the advice I can get. We are trying to get a grip on it now so when we reach that stage we are prepared. it's a ways off.

  6. That is GREAT stuff, Shawni!

    I'd like to add that you need to become a night owl to have good convo with teens. Because that's when they want to talk, and it's not always convenient. But you have to buck up & do it…it's like they're a bank that you're depositing into every time you're there to listen, non-judgementally, so when the times comes to ask something of them, your investment is there to withdraw from.

    And, my favorite parenting quote also works amazingly well for teenagers…."Praised Behavior Continues"…..(although sometimes hard to find praiseworthy behavior!)

    CAN'T WAIT to hang out in a couple weeks!!!

  7. I love these little bits! We are still at 10 and under, but it is coming……..and the communication is already building. Unfortunately, my boys (4 of them) don't want to communicate as much as their mom does : )

  8. I LOVE teenagers! I can't believe it's been 9 years in seminary. Here's a great question from Bonnie Parkin (World Wide Leadership Training Feb 2006) "What does nurturing sound like? Sometimes it’s hard to get more than one-word answers from a teenager. Here’s a question that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in changing that: “What is the biggest challenge or struggle you have right now?” This question opens the door for youth to share. And when they do, just listen! Don’t judge or counsel or anything else. Just listen. You’ll be amazed at the connections and bonds that will be formed."

    I promise you it works miraculous. I've used it ever since I heard it!

  9. I love this post of yours. I'm printing it and saving it to give to my kids, so they can use it as guidance when their kids get to the teenage years.

    My blog is finally up and going. If you have time, take a look!!

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