Maybe Teens Should “Just Relax” and Not Parents

I read a survey today of 340,000 Americans that said that after we turn 50, we are generally happier. The 30-50 age was less happy and the most stressed out group was 20-30. The study didn’t survey teenagers, but I wonder if the 13-18 group would top all the age groups on feeling stressed. Today’s teens especially carry a pretty hefty load of issues on their shoulders every day. Of course, the load is relative to the degree that we learn to be content. That’s why the older we get, the more at peace we become. But teenagers are just beginning to deal with life’s up’s and down’s.

images 5 Maybe Teens Should Just Relax and Not ParentsSometimes your teen may seem to be overly sensitive. And the more you try to help them, the more he or she may cry or sob. The guys will be better at ‘stuffing’ and will tend to funnel all their emotions into the one they know best: anger. Girls tend to be more expressive and deliberate in their emotions.

I remember one night when Elizabeth came home from cheering at a basketball game. She made it to the steps coming up from our basement and fell to her knees sobbing. I thought she’d broken up with her boyfriend or been in a bad accident. She announced that someone had backed into her car in the high school parking lot. I looked at her car and it didn’t even do much damage. I laughed and gave her a big hug. Another time she called home from college in tears and upset. As she cried, I figured she’d been kicked out of school or arrested. She announced, “Daddy, I dropped my cell phone in the fountain.” I just started laughing again. I was so relieved. It made her laugh too. “It’s OK darlin,” I said. “We’ll get you another phone.”

The point is that a part of being a teenager is feeling things intensely. I probably shouldn’t have laughed with Elizabeth because what may seem trivial to us as parents is huge to them. But I was so relieved. As parents who have dealt with heavier issues, getting bumped by a car is small beans. But to our kids, these events are huge.

We need to be careful that we validate our teen’s emotions. As parents, we tend to trivialize events and happenings in the lives of our teens. Though dropping a cell phone or struggling with a friend at school or having a bad baseball practice or having a zit may seem small to us, to our kids, it’s huge and we need to feel the pain with them. The danger, if we discard these events, is that our teens will stop telling us about events in their lives.

Yes, hormones are pumping and our teens may seem irrational at times, but show your teenager that you love them by listening to them in the midst of the drama. Don’t offer advice or minimize the problem, just listen and sympathize.

Yep, you may have a drama queen (or king) on your hands. But be sure you take them by the hand and show them you love them by being with them through the problem.

Why Teens Don’t Follow Rules

debate small Why Teens Dont Follow RulesSometimes we are so busy trying to get our teens to follow a few simple rules and conform to our direction that it is easy to forget that the main goal of adolescents is to actually to do the opposite of what we want.  Teens are determined to differentiate themselves from their parents at all costs.

Because teens are trying to separate themselves from their parents, there will always be a desire for distance between the teen and his parents.  They have very little motivation to connect with their parents through being the same.  Let me explain this – teens want your love but they don’t want to be like you in order to get it.  As parents, we like who we are and believe that modelling our lives has some value.  We hope that our kids emulate our work ethic and values.  But this is the exact opposite of what teens are trying to achieve during the stage of adolescence (and it is just a stage – it will end).  Sure, teens still want the love of their parents and will do many things to achieve a connection, but they also want to separate themselves from us as parents in order to create their own individual identity.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy

If they can’t separate in a healthy way, they will do it more forcefully.

Rebellion might actually be in our DNA.  Even our nation was founded as a result of rebellion and the fight against conformity with the Catholic Church in Europe.  Yet, we have a deep desire to be connected.  We want to be known and understood by others.  This tension between a desire to be connected and rebellion plays out in adolescence.  Teens want to be separate and still be cared for.

How can they separate themselves from you if they continue to listen and follow your direction for life?  They will not want to change their destructive behavior if changing means being more like their parents.  So we need to be mindful of the changes that we are asking of our kids.  We want to give them an escape route – an opportunity to be their own person, but still remain in relationship to us.

So take time to determine with your spouse what you are trying to accomplish as a parent.  Don’t discuss these goals with your teen initially, and perhaps never.  These are simply larger parenting goals.  When it is all said and done, what do you as parents hope happens when your child is in your home? What are your top priorities – faith, safety, education, athletics, or service?  What areas of life are you leading them toward?  By having larger goals, you might find that you are able to let go of some of the smaller stuff.  In fact, the small stuff might actually be getting in the way.  For example, I really hope that my daughter leaves home with a strong sense of self and has strong spiritual values.  Yet, it seems like I spend a lot of time challenging her to work harder in swim practice, and I spend very little time actually praying with her.

At our treatment facility, we encourage parents to sit down and discuss between themselves what they are trying to accomplish with their child.  I don’t think you would be surprised to find that most parents have pretty different views of what should happen with their sons and daughters.  Becoming unified as guardians will bring peace to the home and allow you to focus on what really is important.  Let go of the small disputes that derail your relationship with your teen and focus on the things that you really want them to learn before they leave home.

In what ways are you training your child?