3 things I wished every parent knew

Over the years, I have talked with many teachers, school officials, and even cafeteria workers, in addition to my own experiences and observations.

Although there are many, many things I have learned, I listed below the top three things that I think every parent of a teenager should remember.

*** Remember Why You Had Children ***

Having children is a deep-rooted need in humans. We have a natural drive to not only extend our family name, but also our values, beliefs, and traditions. Even if the pregnancy was unplanned, realize that all mistakes can be corrected in some form. So if you opted to keep the child, then you made a conscious decision to extend your family lineage as well as continue your values, beliefs, and traditions. I’m sure this is the last thing on your mind now, when you are struggling with raising a rebellious, troubled, or defiant teenager. However, remembering why you had children helps you gain perspective on your role as a parent and will improve your relationships with your troubled teen.

This may sound like an odd exercise, but I actually want you to get a pen and piece of paper and do the following:

  • Write down what you want for our family; what do you picture/envision when you think of the family you want?
  • Write down/describe your current family situation/what your family currently looks like

Next is the tough part – you know what you are currently working with and you know where you want it to go. The next step is to decide how you can fill in the “middle” to get you and your family to your end dream.

  • Write down what you think has to happen to get your family to look more like your vision. What are the expectations to get your family to the desired end? What are the benefits?
  • Create “actions” that you will take, along with your family to get there. Share this with your teen (actually they should be involved in the process along the way) and work together to accomplish your shared goals.

Since this is a family story, your children have a role in the story as far as the middle piece, so you need everyone’s input. This is where you decide who will address certain expectations or needs and who is responsible for what actions. This is also where you look at role clarification, because children often take life for granted. Mom and Dad have always taken care of them. As you get your children’s input and buy-in, be sure to explain and enforce their roles. This is a when you need to parent with intent and do everything you can to get the results you’re looking for. Granted, you have other forces to contend with, such as the child dealing with peer pressure from friends and messages from the media, but you still need to make sure your children understand what is expected of them.

*** Remember Your Role ***

This is somewhat tied into the item above about remembering why you had children as well as in previous discussion topics but it is one that I cannot emphasize enough. A common mistake that I see parents make, especially now, is that they try to be their teen’s friend, not their parent. I believe that this is even more prevalent today because parent’s feel guilt or doubt their ability to be a good parent. In the ever common dual working, or single parent home, parents have less time to spend with their teenager. They feel guilty about this and, during the time they do have to spend with their teenager they act more like their friend or confidant than their parent. They don’t want to “waste” the little amount of time they have together with fights, disagreements, etc. so they forget or ignore their roles as a parent. Additionally, many parents want be viewed as the “cool parent” by their teen’s friends. Again, this is oftentimes the result of the guilt parents are feeling over their busy/hectic schedule. The result of this “friend focus” is oftentimes a lack of respect and general disobedience. Additionally, it makes it much more difficult for the parent when they decide they are finally going to enforce a rule and switch from friend to parent role. Just as a teenager is not going to let their friend tell them what to do, they will unlikely disobey directions from a parent who flip-flops back and forth between the parent and friend role.

*** Use Effective Communication Practices***

I can’t tell you how many problems between parent and teen result from poor communications. It is not that the parent is bad or the teen is impossible. Rather, it is either poor communication or no communication at all that results in the strained or tense relationship between parent and teen. All families need to practice some core communication principles. I have listed some below:

  • Be open and willing to talk with your children. But realize that being open doesn’t mean you disclose everything to your children. There’s a fine line between making your children aware of something and disclosing all your personal history and baggage.
  • Take time to connect with each other. For some families, this is difficult because of the internal walls that have built up over time. For example, your child may reply to almost everything you say with his or her favorite phrase of: “I don’t know.” If that’s the case, it may be hard for you initially to establish that check-in conversation. But realize that checking-in does not mean you have to pinpoint a certain time each day to do it. Sure, you can check-in on the ride to school and/or after school, but those aren’t the only times. You have a full day to work with. You can use every moment of the day as an opportunity to talk: while cooking dinner, playing sports, watching TV, playing video games, etc. Make it a casual conversation so your child participates. After a few days, your child will start to open up.
  • Teach each other about each other. Most families believe they know everything about each other there is to know. But every day we all learn something new. Maybe you can share what you learned that day with your children, and vice-versa.
  • Have weekly or bi-weekly family meetings. Designate a time of the week where you all get together to talk and check-in with each other. It can be a heavy duty conversation, or simply a light discussion.
  • Remember that you are human and so are your children. Remove shame, blame, and attacks from all communications. Rely on authentic conversations to express your true feelings.

When a family follows these guidelines, they’re freer and experience less stress. The family feels more complete and displays a greater level of trust and love. Communication is honest and open, and the entire family unit is enhanced. If that sounds like the family you want to live in, realize that you can turn that desire into reality. It all starts with you.

Remember – Let’s ‘parent with intent’