I have seven years until I can say that I’m mum to a teenager. I shall relish those years; relish the toddler tantrums, the toilet training and shoelace tying. Because people keep telling me that when kids hit their teens, the rules change. Everything changes. Dark clouds form and the light and shade of parenting becomes more shade than light.
Well, I don’t know if you’re all being a little bit melodramatic. To be honest, I’m not the sort to worry in advance about these things. I’ll let tomorrow worry about that. But as I engage with you parents of teens, and you tell me what is working for you, there are so many nuggets of wisdom that I’m desperately trying to retain, to file away somewhere in this lackadaisical brain so that seven years from now, on my son’s 13th birthday, I can pull out that file marked, Useful Tips & Tricks for Mums of Teenagers.
I won’t rely on my brain, I’ll rely on my blog. Here is the start of a file of wisdom in managing a home occupied by teens. Maybe some of you will find it useful straight away.
Have an X-plan.
I read this blog about parents who have given their teen kids a code. If they are at a party, out with mates – whatever, wherever – and things become uncomfortable to the point where they want out pronto, they text that one letter, X, to their mum, dad or older sibling. The chosen relative will drop everything, knowing it is an emergency code, and call the teen immediately, telling them that they need to come home due to a family situation. The communication is deliberately scant on details, so said teen doesn’t have to explain him or herself, just that they will be picked up very soon and to be ready. The agreed escape code includes a clause of discretion: teen is not expected to share why they activated the code, unless someone is in danger. I love this. It is using technology in a positive way to build independence without forsaking safety and protection. Read more about it HERE.
We love our children so much, we would move mountains to ensure their happiness and safety, right? Only thing is, being active contributors in their lives can sometimes be to their detriment. When kids hit their teens, there are areas where we need to step back and encourage independence, even if it means allowing them to fail every so often. Should you still be making their lunch, doing their washing, reminding them of deadlines, filling out their paperwork? What useful life skills are you holding them back from learning if you are doing it all for them? Read more about this HERE.
Screen free time.
There’s a restaurant in America that gives free ice-cream to people who don’t touch their phones during their meal. They have even created a “phone coup” for diners to stash their phones during mealtime, to help them resist the urge to “just answer this one call” or “just check Instagram”. When I read about this I thought it could definitely be done at home, because sitting around the table with family, engaging in conversation and giving each other full, undivided attention is super important. We’ve also established Sundays as screen-free day in our home (no television, no iPads, limited smartphone use), and intend to stretch that into teendom. Read more about the restaurant HERE.
Make your place the cool place.
I asked a woman I respect what her trick was to raising kids who haven’t (to my knowledge) gone off the rails. Her kids are adults now, but I always admired how respectful they were, how involved in the church, how tight-knit and God-honouring they are. She said, “Make sure your place is the cool place for kids to hang out after school.”
They were really strategic about this. I mean, they made sure they had lots of teen-friendly food on offer (read: junk food), they had an open door policy meaning the kids could bring their whole rabble of friends along at pretty much any time, and their house was central, close to school, the city, where everything happens. And it worked. While the teenagers took liberties on their house and contents, the parents maintained control over their whereabouts and activities – to a degree. Not only that, but they had the opportunity to invest in the lives of their kids’ friends too. Smart people.
Accept that you’re not always going to be their go-to.
I know the day will come when it will be too embarrassing to kiss and cuddle my kids in front of their friends, when my mannerisms will send their eyes rolling and my clothes won’t be cool enough. I’m told that it’s just what happens. Which is why it’s the best idea in the world to set them up with other trusted influencers. I’m talking aunts and uncles, grandparents, your own friends – people who are willing to put the time in and establish relationship so that down the track, when something challenging comes their way and they just don’t want to talk about it with mum or dad, they have someone to go to whom they respect and trust. Importantly – it’s a person you also respect and trust.
Steve Biddulph is a wealth of information on this and other strategies in raising boys and girls.
Remember, they don’t belong to me.
Another woman I respect greatly, whose daughter died tragically in a car accident when she was twenty-something, in the midst of her grief made this comment: “she didn’t belong to me”. It sounded harsh, abrasive at the time. But I’ve come to see how vital it is that we recognise the fact that our children are not our possessions. God has entrusted them into our care for a season, but they remain his. He is ultimately responsible for them. He loves them more than I ever could. He desires the very best for them. And on that note, what better act of love can we give to our children than prayer? Submitting their past, present and future to Jesus, acknowledging his redeeming power in their lives, is a parent’s greatest aid. This one starts now and continues always – no need to wait for the teen years.
This verse would be a good prayer to start with:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”
– Ephesians 1:18