While I will never claim to be an authority on the subject of parenting teens, there are four things we’ve learned along the way that I wish someone would have told us sooner. I think these will vary from teen to teen but perhaps one or two ideas will resonate for helping to stay connected with your teen?!
- Spend time together – A lot!
We noticed that we began to spend less time with our boys as they got older. It happened simply because they didn’t need us as much. They were fully capable of playing out in the cul-de-sac, without us. We could head out for a few hours, leaving them safely at home. This meant that the days of everyone doing everything together, all of the time, were over. We decided we didn’t like this whole ‘spending less time together’ thing. It wasn’t the way we wanted our family to be.
It takes so much time and effort to stay connected with our teens. It’s also so easy to let this slip because we’re tired. But getting out there and shooting hoops, taking them along on our shopping trips and treating them to Starbucks, allowing them to play their music out loud instead of on their headphones (even when we hate it!), taking them to the movie they choose – all of these foster time together. They create a connectedness that we’re so happy to have with our boys.
- Listen to everything (even if it bores you to tears)
Do you think I have any interest whatsoever in the differences between the Playstation 3 and the Playstation 4? Do you think I delight in hearing the stats from the basketball game in excruciating detail? Do you believe I’m entirely interested in the latest skateboard video that was just completely amazing? Yeah, I’m not. I don’t. And I couldn’t care less.
I mean, if it were a stranger rattling these things off to me I couldn’t care less. But what I do care about, are my kids. What this means is that I care deeply about what they care about.
Translation: I give them my time and attention when they’re going on and on about trivial things.
Reason being, if I seem distant or shut them down with the trivial things, they’ll never decide to come to me with the big things. And if they’re giving me all of the stats about the basketball game, chances are at some point the story will turn to who was playing and who was watching and where they all went afterwards and what so and so did that was so funny or how they got their feelings hurt by someone else. But if I don’t even give them the chance, we’ll never get to the good stuff!
- Don’t trust them too much
Yes, I really do mean this! I started out parenting my teens with the utmost trust. I wanted to believe the best of them and I figured that if I showed my trust they would want to live up to my highest standards. What I learned was that while we want to trust our teens to a certain extent, we also want to acknowledge that they aren’t always trustworthy. This is why we learned that operating with some caution and even, dare I say distrust, can be wise. Because after all, they are typical teen boys.
If my boys know that I trust them implicitly, then they’ll know that I’m never checking up on them. And if they know that I’m never checking up on them, then the chances are that I’ll never be too worried about what they’re doing. And if I’m not worried about what they’re doing, then they can probably get away with doing whatever they want. Because of this, I firmly believe that a healthy distrust is important.
Poke and prod around in their lives.
We can let them know that we know what websites they’re visiting and that we question the unaccounted for time in their day. Show them that while we WANT to trust them, we know that they are tempted to bend and break the rules, just like we are!
- Stay up later than you want
Sleep has always been one of the most important parts of my day. We’re talking 9 hours of it every single night if I want to be coherent and functioning. I’m an early riser so this means that an early bedtime has always been essential. Then along came teenagers. Turns out, teens are not tired at 9pm and are barely ready to turn in at 10!
I’ve had to learn (though I’ve fought it every step of the way!) to stay up much later than I want to. I made the decision that if my teens are up later, I want to be up too (see point 3).
Later at night is also a time that teens will start to unwind and subsequently, when they talk. For some reason, the later it gets the more they divulge (see point 2). So, if we want to know what’s going on in their days then we need to sit up in the dark with them (see point 1) and let them get it all out. Even if it means we need a nap the next day!
These four things all work in combination and while they’ve taken some getting used to, we’re happy that we’ve implemented them regularly. Teens take just as much work as toddlers, if we want to stay connected! It’s different work, less physical and more emotional, but it’s time and being intentional nonetheless.
Believe it or not, no matter what they say, no matter how many times they put those headphones on or close their bedroom door – they want this time and effort from us! Try it, I’ll think you’ll find that it’s true.