When our children are young we put them in cute outfits with matching socks. We arrange playdates for them, and we bring out trays of healthy little snacks. The sun just shines. And we have no idea how cute this age actually is.
Then one day your cute child has turned into a teenager. The sky is sometimes as grey as their moods. You are trying to fathom why your parenting doesn’t get the results you used to get. In fact at times it can feel like you are in a wild kayak ride paddling hard to avoid smashing into the rocks. It takes all your energy.
My husband and I have been parenting teens for more than twelve years. We are up to teenager number 4. Our house has often been a hub of fun and hilarity, with them and their friends. But if the walls could talk they’d tell you there’s also been plenty of arguments and stressful times. Even this morning was one of those stressful times. It has been an intense journey and it is not over yet. My blog is about simplifying life and this is a bit different to my usual posts but I know how complicated teen parenting is. And I know how some strategies can make things a bit easier. Every week I hear a parent talking about struggles and stress with a teen so I have felt compelled to write on this topic.
There is awesome fun. Your kitchen is full of teen bodies making food and making a mess. Music is on full volume. They cook up either something vegan, or total junk food, depending on the phase they are in. I have always said ‘cook and eat what you want. If you need more ingredients tell me and I will get them’. We prefer they are happy at our house than somewhere else.
There can be awesome stress. There are periods when you end up in crazy places. Mentally and literally. You may also wonder if you will live through this.
You might be the best parents in the world. Loving, firm, balanced. But there are pretty tough things that our culture throws at families. Now more than any other stage of parenting, and more than any other stage of our life, we need others, and we need good strategies. Here I will share some great ones we collected along the journey. It is of course not a definitive list but just a few good ones. I will also share more in part 2 later.
12 strategies for parenting your teenager.
1. Talk to other parents who are up ahead on the parenting journey. Learn from others blood, sweat and tears, and avoid some blood, sweat and tears of your own. Here’s an example. Our first teenager had a really messy room and it was an ongoing conflict point that was ruining our relationship. Then one day an older parent told me to not bother about it at all, just shut the door. She said her messy teens had become tidy adults. She said it is not worth it. I was elated and stunned realising; ‘Í don’t have to care about it??!!!’. That conflict dissolved immediately thanks to one chat with an older parent.
2. Study up. Did you get your licence without a bunch of driving lessons? No. Do you think parenting teens will be easier than driving? 😂😂 We need to read books and do any workshops or courses on parenting teens we can find. Think of it as the olympics stage of your parenting journey. You need preparation, coaching, tips and help.
3. Chores. It is imperative that teens have to do chores to help in the home. We are a team and we must all help out. Write a clear chart with daily and weekly tasks. If they are out a lot give them a zone take care of. Once they are teens they can also start doing their own washing. Why should you be their washing service? You already carry the main weight (and costs) of providing the home! Many parents think their teens have too much homework but I assure you that they are finding plenty of time to be on instagram so sweeping the patio for 30 minutes is not a problem.
4. Music. Music gives your home a good vibe. Music means everyone like being at home more. But more importantly, music is everything to a teen. Therefore it is a strategic way to connect. Make a Spotify playlist for the house and get everyone to add some of their own favourite songs (that they think the rest of the family can enjoy or bear). They will feel much more connected to you if you listen to some of their music. I see this with my daughters. In fact this is how I have found most of my favourite music. An additional bonus is that their friends will think you are really cool when it plays in the house or in the car.
5. Get everyone in the house to do the Love Languages test on the internet. Learn about and speak your teens love language. Check this out: The 5 love languages. On the website are tests and there is a book too called The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. It is critical to understand your teen’s main love language.
In difficult phases parents have to find creative ways to show love. If they have gone off hugs offer a shoulder massage. If you need to say something positive but it is hard to think of something maybe you can compliment their shoes or earrings! Moody teens need to know we care even if they don’t seem to care about us.
6. Pray. If you are a person with faith then pray. My husband and I pray constantly for our teens and we know God cares about them. We are mere humans who make mistakes and who also can’t be everywhere. When we are worried about them we hand our worries over to God.
7. Stuff ups are normal. All parents stuff up at times. All teens stuff up too. We need to all accept that and say sorry at times and forgive each other. It is powerful stuff that can turn terrible situations around 180 degrees.
8. Be nice to their friends. Even if they have tattoos and piercings. Feed them and look them in the eye and ask them how they are. Maybe some other parent can do this for your kid too. Also, if you are nice to your teens friends, those friends are more likely to reach out to you if your kid is in trouble.
9. Don’t be an audience to a bad mood. When a teen is in a bad mood, it’s a signal to retreat. Leave the room and get busy elsewhere because being an audience for the bad mood doesn’t help them or you. Connect again when the mood has passed.
10. Self care will stop you from freaking out so much. It is devastating when a loving child suddenly becomes a moody hermit. Some teens are even mean. Teenage daughters might even turn into pirahnas and try to eat mum. It is now that you need to go out and have a regular date with your spouse or friends, or enjoy a redecorating project. Watching a good series on Netflix can be good too. Remember what they say on flights: ‘parents put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting your child’. In this season you will need new sources of joy, confidence or comfort. Many mums of teens find that the pet dog is a major comfort in this season. The dog always thinks you’re the awesomest person on earth and always wants a hug.
Try have some fun. Never have you needed it so much. Put on music and dance. Go for a picnic. Get a new hairstyle. Go on a holiday! I went out for coffee with Miss 16 a couple of days ago. She had just bought a skateboard. We went out afterwards and I had a go (see photo – crazy mum on skateboard). I was scared but it was fun!
11. Feed them well. This may sound way too basic to be true but when kids stomachs are full of proteins and nutrients they are less likely to be grumpy. Have lots of good and healthy food around the house. I work with teenagers in a high school and I am in classes with them. There are often boys who are struggling to focus and when I ask them what they ate for breakfast they usually say ‘nothing’, ‘a cup of hot chocolate’, or ‘çake’. Maybe we need to put out some wholegrain bread and a toaster and some peanut butter. We have also experienced and heard others say that when teens go vegan they often become quite unbalanced as they don’t put in the attention to nutrient that a vegan adult would. Nutrients are vital to moods. Getting them fed well is a favour to ourselves in the long run.
12. Don’t sweat the small stuff! When our firstborn becomes a teen we tend to freak out over a lot of things. Things we later realise was not worth arguing over. My husband and I certainly did. We realised later it doesn’t matter if they dye their hair, pierce their ears (again) or have a pigsty of a bedroom. It is better that their hair gets dyed a different colour each month than they get a tattoo which is permanent. Don’t let minor things ruin your relationship with your teen. Of course there are issues where you need to draw the line. I am still not sure about my daughters short shorts… But generally we have learnt not to be freaking about things that are not long term or life threatening. It is good to save your relational bond and your parental energy in case more serious issues arise.
I hope some of these ideas help you stay in your kayak and not smash into the rocks. Even if you do fall out just scramble back in and start paddling again. And if things get too hard call out to friends. They can be such a lifeline in this journey.
Keep a lookout for Part 2 of this article to come later. There will be more survival strategies and tips.
Siobhan 🌿🌿 Photos from my cafe and skateboard afternoon with Miss 16.