My kids are still young: 4 and 2. I’ve never had to parent a teenager; I’ve only been one! I hear parents who have teenagers say things like, “Just you wait…” or “Enjoy this while you can…” in a warning, ominous or amusing tone. But since I have no idea what to expect for parenting teenagers, what on earth are they warning me about? What are they really telling me when they say I better treasure my toddlers today? So I set out to find out.
I asked parents of teenagers to give me some input on the matter. I asked, “What advice would you give to parents who only have toddlers or babies right now? Specifically, what advice about having a teenager would you give? What are you warning us about?”
Here are some of their great responses:
“Always assume the best out of your teenagers. They are going to make their own choices based off what you’ve tried so hard to teach them throughout their years and it will drive you crazy to worry all the time that they will make bad decisions. So instead, trust them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume they are out there making good choices until proven otherwise and if that’s the case, you deal with it from there. They will see your confidence in them and want to live up to It.” –Magi G.
“When [teenagers] do get moody towards you, it’s hardly ever really personal, even though it may feel like it. Hormones are nasty things and can be challenging to work through gracefully.” –Linda R.
“Hug first in every conflict. Hug until they let go, not when you are done. Kids will often times hold on much longer than you would expect. It fills their emotional gas tank! Be willing to listen to your kids when they are ready for bed. I know you are the most tired at bedtime but that is when their defenses are down. Spend time talking with them in their beds.” –Heather D. H.
“Find every opportunity to make them feel capable, beautiful and special along the way because they feel pretty bad about themselves in those teenage years. Teach them to serve others so they will develop empathy. Most of all, make sure they know they are loved.” –Joy P.
“Constant compliments, even while disciplining. Love every picture, every pretty rock, every idea, every question because just wait they will quit coming. Your child’s confidence depends on you. Let them know that they are loved; tell them always.” –Cheryl R.
“Strive not to compare them to others. They are their own person and should be treated as such.” –Lorrie J.
“Always listen when you talk to them. You listen to your friends, think of your child like you would a friend; don’t talk down to them, you would be surprised what they know…And remember to always tell them you love them – when they wake up, when you leave them, they leave you, when you put them to bed, or anytime you feel like it. Those three little words mean the world when they hear it and nothing means more once you hear “I love you Mom” back.” –Melissa L.
“Have fun with them. Be silly; create “just between us” jokes or memories with them. How special it is when a teenager says, “remember when we…. something that bonded you…. when I was little.” Just love ’em, squeeze ’em, and teach ’em every single chance you get.” –Leigh D.
“Really listen. Smile and show attention and love while listening. Make them feel their opinion is important even if you think it’s wrong. You, as their parent, are their best confidant. If this relationship is established very early like at birth, the teenager will trust you. Don’t judge, don’t mock and don’t preach, treat them like you’d treat your best adult friend. They’ll listen to your advice, maybe not follow it, but it’ll be in the back of their mind. Most importantly, the teenager will trust your advice even if it takes them time like into their twenties sometimes.” –Gayle W.
“Take every chance you can to notice them being successful, responsible, and kind. Point out their successes and be authentic. Let them make choices and own their responsibilities but be on their team. Don’t be too quick to say yes or no. Give them the chance to convince you why things should be their way. Teenagers will surprise you by being wise more often than by being knuckleheads…. Encourage them to come up with and enact solutions to their problems. Solving their own problems will empower them. Even if their way is not as straight-forward as yours, trying their solution will give them the power to learn from their thinking and try again.” –Jenny W.
“Number one: Be consistent. If you’re consistent now and your kids listen to you and know you mean what you say, it will help in their teens. Two: listen to your kids. If they want to talk about scary spiders right now as toddlers then you listen to the conversation and spiders are the most important thing at that moment. Then as your children grow into teenagers and they have real concerns and real problems to talk about, they know that you are always there to listen to them. Three: As your children age, you need to allow them more independence. Allow them to make choices. It will make them be more confident adults.” –Magi G.
“I think my warning would be: if you think that this is fun and you’re enjoying toddler stage, just wait! It only gets better and better and better. With every passing year I enjoy my kids more and more! I get to know them better I get to love them better and I have more experiences with them.” –Jennie H.
“I think what people are warning you about is that the problems can be more serious than not wanting to eat their vegetables.” –Ricki G.
Like I said, I was a teenager once upon a time, and I have a mother who navigated my moody teen years like a pro. One of my favorite memories was when I came home heartbroken over a boy one day. His mother had called my cell during school and left me a nasty message, blaming me for everything wrong in her son’s life. My own mother became Mama Bear. She was everything I needed in that moment: protective, encouraging, validating, and smart in how she handled the situation. She could have called up this other mother and chewed her out (like she said she wanted to). But instead, she taught me how to let hurtful things roll off my back. She taught me how to look at a situation from other people’s perspectives before getting offended. She stood up for me with love and validation of my hurt. That day, my little teenage, immature brain imbedded that example of love and defense within my memories forever. So from this example, what I think my mother would advise is,
“Always listen to your teenagers and try to see from their perspective to understand their very real emotions. Be their advocate when their defenses have been striped away and they will truly see your loyalty to them, no matter what.”