Time flies fast from elementary to college age, so get ready to change your parenting habits. Every child seems to move in warp speed toward the teenage years.
I was caught by surprise when a new declaration of personal independence was automatically assumed the day my son got his driver’s license. It was as though I represented an oppressive and extremely unfair regime whenever I tried to enforce any rule. (Whenever I said no to one of my teenage daughters, she would go to her bedroom, close the door and play Britney Spears’ “Overprotected” over and over again for over an hour, loud enough for me and the whole house to hear.) I have to admit, it was difficult for me to transition from parenting children to parenting teenagers. I had worked with teenagers all of my life, but I had never actually had any living in my home. I am still a recovering parent of teens, but here are a few things I have recognized about this chapter of parenting:
It’s a complicated time.
While your children are transitioning from being dependent to independent, you are transitioning as a parent from having authority to leveraging your influence. You can’t parent them the same way you did when they were in elementary school.
It’s an urgent time.
Face it. You know a window is closing fast. Ready or not, in a few short years your children will be leaving home. You are running out of time, and it is easy to feel a little panicked. Everything seems to matter more (grades, decisions, relationships.) And to make matters worse, everything costs more too. Have I mentioned the price of college these days? Feeling better?
Keep fighting for your teenager’s emotional health by investing in relational time with them. Especially during this uncertain season, they need a positive relationship with you more than you or they may realize. Here are a few things to remember that might help you make the time you spend with your teenager more meaningful:
1. Find a common activity you can both enjoy.
2. Make sure there is no agenda.
They will see right through a masked motive and interpret your effort to hang out as manipulation. Don’t forget. This is about building your relationship. So don’t use this time to deal with issues. Guard the fun.
3. Keep it outside the house.
You probably already spend most of your time together in your home. It can be full of duties, responsibilities, and distractions, so get out and do something that is a contrast to your normal routine.
4. Do it without friends.
Anyone you add to your time will drastically change the dynamic. Give your teenager individual and undivided attention, without your friends or their friends, and even without siblings.
5. Mutually agree to turn off cell phones.
Make at least part of your time a no-electronic zone. Phones have a way of distracting you from meaningful and engaging dialogue.
6. Put it on the schedule (but probably not on a Friday).
Be sensitive to how a teenager wants to organize his or her life. Discover the rhythm that exists in their schedule and agree with them on the best times to hang out.
7. Stay flexible (and be willing to reschedule frequently).
A teenager’s world is always changing. They could feel trapped if you are rigid about your scheduled time with them. Don’t let your time with them become a competition with their other interests and priorities. Avoid making them choose between you and something else they really want to do.
8. Remember your goal is not to change them.
Avoid getting into conversations where you are trying to correct or improve a behavior. Save those conversations for another time. You can shut down a positive experience if you try to leverage it to fix something.
9. Keep working at it.
Learning to communicate with those you love can be awkward at times. Strive to ask the right kind of questions and listen more than you talk. You are not trying to become your teen’s best friend, but you are laying an important foundation for the kind of friendship you want to enjoy with them during their adult years.
10. Use it as an opportunity to give your teenager approval.
I’m amazed at how many adults left home without ever really feeling like their parents believed in them. Look for numerous opportunities to encourage their specific strengths and skills.
Having fun and spending quality time together is increasingly important as your relationship with your child changes. This week, find out what kind of activities your teenager likes, and schedule some intentional time together when you can simply enjoy being together.
And if you have other tips you’ve discovered about spending time with a teenage son or daughter, please post them in the comments so we can all learn from our shared experiences.
(Originally published November 15, 2010)