Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m the Mom of a teenager. In so many ways, it seems like I was just rocking my 14 year old in my arms, or watching him take his first bite. What they say is true; it all goes so fast. But in other ways, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when I wasn’t a parent. It’s exactly what I always wanted to do, and I wish I had a thousand lifetimes to do it. However, it’s not always easy. With your first child, you’re always just figuring it out as you go. So, while I am writing this post in order to share what I’ve learned so far, I’m not an expert. I’ve been the parent of a teenager for about two and a half years. So this is what I’ve learned so far about parenting teens.
Parenting teens… they need more love than you think.
It seems a lot of times, when parents enter the teen phase, they start to take a more hands off approach. They may stop hugging as much, or asking them about their day as much. This often comes from a natural reaction to their teen’s attitude. Teenagers come across as if they don’t care about anything. They might act like they don’t care about you as their Mom or Dad. But the truth is, they need you more than you think. Parenting teens is the time when they have so many more questions about life, themselves, and the world around them. If you aren’t available to talk, who will they talk to? Where will they get the information they need?
Parenting teens is a time of confusion for both parents and teenagers. And despite what your natural tendency might be as a parent, don’t back off your teenager too much. Of course, allow them healthy levels of independence, but also stay nearby as their guide, mentor, and friend.
Keep track of their online life.
Whatever you decide about your teenager’s use of technology, you need to be involved with their online life. Teens can have a whole separate life online, that can be very different than what you see in your home, right in front of you. It’s very possible, and all too common, for teens to have a separate and distinct online life, that parents know nothing about. It can be very scary, and very dangerous. Parenting teens means getting involved in that online world, and demanding as much transparency as possible.
For us, our young teens don’t have a phone yet. They are among very few teens their age who do not have a phone, but we are holding off as long as we can. For this reason, that means that our teens don’t have social media. However, it’s obviously only a matter of time until they do! I’m already preparing for that time by trying to be friends with as many of their friends on social media as possible.
And of course, with my Instagram life, I am personally very into social media! I try to involve my older kids with the process of sponsored posts as much as possible. I involve them in the process as much as possible so they understand the ins and outs of this business. It’s a brave new world of influencer marketing and content creation, and I want them to understand that business as much as possible.
Love what they love. Or at least try.
I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that my teenage son loves Fortnite. Before I was a parent, I swore my children would never play video games at all. And of course, that’s the kind of thing you claim when you don’t have kids yet. Then I had kids, and realized that video games are like anything else; it’s all in how it’s used. In fact, I even wrote a whole post about why I’m not scared of video games.
For me, my teenager wants to tell me about the latest skin in Fortnite. Do I actually care about what the latest skin is or how you get it? You know the answer to that. Do I even know what he’s talking about half the time? You guessed it! But I try my very best to stay engaged, to learn as much as needed to understand him, and to be genuinely interested. I don’t spend hours playing the game with him (although I’m sure he would love that). But I do care about his interests, just like I would try to do with a friend.
Do your best to find a common interest, like certain movies or music or hobbies. And then cultivate that just like you would with a friend. My oldest son and I have a deep passion for Disney World. I thought I was the biggest Disney fan I’d ever known. Then my son grew up and had me beat by a mile! He knows more trivia than most people I know! It’s so wonderful to be able to share my passion for Disney with someone I love so much. What an unexpected joy of parenting!
Your teenager wants to spend time with you. They might just not be sure if you actually want to spend time with them.
Acknowledge their independence and make them feel needed.
It’s a basic human truth that we all like to be needed. Parenting teens is no different. When you need your daughter to help you organize your 5 year old’s room, she feels useful. She may grumble about it here or there, but when you praise her and tell others about what a good job she did, she will feel proud. When your son mows the yard and does an excellent job, and you recommend him to your neighbors, you are acknowledging his competence and independence.
It’s natural for teenagers to want to feel independent. It’s a natural part of growing up, and you are preparing them to leave your home as capable adults. This is a journey, not one single point. So far, in my experience with teenagers, it’s helpful to make them feel needed and wanted, and to also acknowledge the ways in which they are different than the younger members of your household.
Parenting teens means still hugging, and still saying goodnight.
When you are the parent of a teenager, you can visually see right in front of you how much they are changing. Their bodies are changing, their voice is changing. Driver’s ed, dating, college; there are so many new things, and so many things that make you feel like your teenager barely needs you. And it’s true, they don’t need you as much, in many ways. But they still need your love.
It might sound simple, but it can’t be overstated. Your teenager still needs you to hug them. They still need you to rub their back now and then. In fact, they still need you to say goodnight and maybe even lay down with them and talk about their day. They are growing and changing so fast, and of course things are different. But in so many ways, they’re the same. Depending on what speaks to them most, they may really crave physical touch from you, and sometimes parents have a tendency to really back off of this when their children reach the teen years. Don’t do it! Give that hug. Hold their hand. Ruffle their hair. Even if you haven’t done it in years, just go in for the hug, and I bet you won’t be rejected.
If you want to build a relationship with your teenager that lasts a lifetime, it starts now. Be interested in what they are interested in. Show them love. Set healthy boundaries. And be there for them when they need you. And you just might end up with a person, who happens to be your child, who you really love hanging out with for a long time to come.