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Parenting Teens

Parenting a teen can be like parenting a different child every day.  They are so busy trying on different people to be, it can be hard to keep up.  Part of their figuring out who they are often includes pushing you away.  Read hear how to find that balance of letting them go while keeping them safe. 

Arm Your Students for Success in High School

3 Qualities Their Teachers Want Them to Have.

Teachers know that their job is to deal with the child who walks through the door no matter what he brings, but if they were able to write a list of qualities they’d like parents to develop in their child, this would be it:

1.    Teach your child to advocate for himself.  Did your mother write notes to the teacher all the time?  Mine didn’t. Instead, she empowered me to speak for myself.  She would help me sort out where I had possibly overreacted and where I could reasonably make a request.  She would role play how to talk to teachers, so I could respectfully let them know my wants or needs.  If my two or three attempts did not clear up the miscommunication or problem, only at that point would Mom approach the teacher—and then it was to enlist the teacher’s help in solving the problem, not to condemn her, and certainly not to make excuses for me.  What was the advantage of this approach?  I learned—in a protected environment—how to stand up for myself and get my needs met, even from people I saw as insensitive or unfair.  I learned the power of airing hurt feelings or injustices with the aim of clarity and compromise.  Pretty much the only communication my mother had with my teachers was to thank them profusely for their dedication and service.

2.       Teach your child personal responsibility.  High school is the time when students should be practicing independence.  By graduation, you want your child to be self-sufficient so that you can send her off to college confident that she will transition easily.  If she hasn’t started already, ninth grade is the time to have her make her own lunch, schedule her own work and handle her own appointments.  If she is not already doing her own laundry, at the very least she should be making sure her team uniform is clean and ready to go to school on game days—and that does not include pleading at the last minute could you do it please, Mom, I just have so much work to do.  As a parent, that also means not rescuing your child by dropping off the forgotten lunch or project.  Allow your child to feel the lesson of the natural consequence of having to turn to friends for lunch or of getting a 0 on an assignment she has worked hard on.  If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to allow your child to get a 0, at the very least make it very uncomfortable for your child and demand something in return (maybe the “price” of using Dad as a delivery service is helping him wash all the family cars this weekend). 

3.     Teach your child to learn from mistakes and failure.  Our greatest lessons come from mistakes and failure if we have the emotional strength and resilience to process them.  A child who is emotionally coddled in the face of failure never really learns how to recover and to move on.  Instead, he turns to making excuses, blaming or helplessness.  Imagine your son gets a really low grade on his essay.  He walks in the door, throws down his backpack and slumps into a chair while complaining of what an idiot Mr. So-and-so is.  Your parental heart strings twang and you rush to comfort him.  Maybe you make him his favorite snack and suggest he go play video games for a while.  At the very least, you are reinforcing his disrespect by not calling him out for insulting his teacher.  But more importantly, you are missing an opportunity to help him see where he has control over his life.  Your conversation might go something like this:  Son, I can see you are feeling frustrated, but please do not resort to empty name calling.  Is your grade truly unfair or are you really just disappointed with yourself?   If the issue is clearly with the teacher, switch to the how-to-advocate-for-yourself lesson.  If the issue is disappointment, it is time for reflection:  What made you think you were going to get a good grade?  Did you put in 100% effort?  Did you check your understanding of the assignment with anyone?  What is your plan for next time?  You might conclude with the comfort of we all fail sometimes; you’ll figure this out. 

Kids who come to school trained in these qualities learn better and take more joy in their learning.  They are able to regulate themselves and are ready to take full advantage of all that a teacher has to offer.  This is a teacher’s greatest hope. 

Advice for Parenting Teens

3 Metaphors to Consider

1.    They are on a roller coaster ride; your job is to stay on the platform.       

     We've all heard about the hormones that wash through teens crashing like waves on a rocky shore.  We expected them to be emotional, but we never expected to get caught up on the ride with them.  But when you think about it, why wouldn't we?  Since they were babies, we have been holding our breath as we watch them totter on unsteady legs.  It is our job to worry about them, right?  Well, yes, but you are going to be much more successful if you project the bored nonchalance of an amusement park ride operator.  Your teen is up on the ride--terrified, exhilarated, screaming, going a million miles an hour;  you are on the platform--solid, confident, predictable, understanding but unconcerned.  Being on an emotional roller coaster is scary and draining for your kids.  They need to see you standing firmly down below, feeling the comfort of your calm to help them believe that their craziness is just a stage and it will pass--and you will be there to see them through it. 

2.    They are like untrained horses; you’ll have more success if you come up along side them rather than straight at them.

     Teenagers are skittish.  Running on nerves, they are desperately trying to project confidence and independence, while at the same time feeling judged and vulnerable.  If you come straight at them with a command or comment, they'll spook and run the other way.  Instead, be a horse whisperer.  Seriously, go check out some horse training videos on Youtube.  You will see how the trainer gives the horse options and space to keep him relaxed but at the same time stays engaged and near by.  Your teen needs to feel that ideas are his own.  You need to project confidence in his ability to problem solve and recover from mistakes.  All the while, however, you are gently keeping him on track, providing the fence that will keep him from going completely out of control. 

3.    They are pulling on the leash; it is time to give them lots of slack, but not time to cut the cord. 

        High School is the last training ground you will have before your child goes off into the world.  You want them to make mistakes and fail now.  It is far better that they fail in little ways while in the safety of your own home than when they are alone in their own apartment somewhere or on a college campus on the other side of the country.  Getting in deep and figuring out how to get out of it is a part of growing up.  We are so terrified that letting our kids fail means ruining their future that we never allow them the space to learn to grow up.  Sure, they might have straight A's because you got them a tutor when Chemistry got hard, but did you allow them the time to feel the misery of falling behind?  Did you give them the space to figure out that they need to talk to the teacher?  Did you use the natural consequence of a poor grade to slap them in the face and startle them into taking responsibility for their own learning?  Have a long leash.  Give kids lots of slack so they can make their own choices and feel the consequences of those decisions.   But don't cut the cord.  Keep the warm connection.  Make it clear you are always there for them.  Offer to help and follow through when they need it.  Show them that no matter how much they mess up, you love them and are at hand to work together with them to brainstorm next steps.