Shoulder-to-Shoulder Parenting: Why It’s the Best Way to Parent Teenagers
Years ago when my three kids were still playing dress-up and rolling Tonka trucks across my kitchen floor, I struck up a conversation with a mom in my neighborhood who was deep in the throes of raising teenagers.
After hearing so many horror stories about how difficult raising teens can be – the raging hormones, the rebellion, how pressured teens are academically and the day-in-and-day-out social pressure they’re pounded with – to say I was worried was an understatement.
As we stood in her driveway chatting (somewhere in the midst of me interrupting her fifteen times to tell my kids to stay out of the street and stop fighting), she shared the best advice for parenting teens I have ever received.
“When our children are little we walk in front of them to guide them. When they’re older and capable we walk behind. When they’re teenagers we have to walk beside them every step of the way… they’re growing, learning, making mistakes, and finding their way. They need us by their side, shoulder to shoulder.”
As I’ve raised my kids through the tumultuous teen years, her advice has proven to be the bricks and mortar of my parenting philosophy.
Shoulder to shoulder, my kids know I’m here for them.
Shoulder to shoulder, they know they can lean on me for advice, guidance, understanding, and a pep talk when life gets hard.
Shoulder to shoulder, they know they can come to me when they’ve made a mistake, made a poor decision, or screwed up royally.
Shoulder to shoulder, they know I’m their biggest cheerleader, their confidante, the one who will always have their back, and the one who loves them unconditionally.
Shoulder to shoulder, they also know I’ll tell them like it is, set boundaries, set them straight when they’ve veered off path, put my foot down when necessary, and discipline them accordingly when they’ve broken my rules.
Shoulder-to-shoulder parenting, we’re partners.
Transforming our teenagers into responsible adults is undoubtedly the most difficult job we will ever face as parents, but the one thing I’ve found that works best to build a harmonious, respectful, honest relationship is when the relationship is viewed as a partnership, not a dictatorship.
Here are a few shoulder-to-shoulder strategies that have worked for me when raising my teenagers:
When I Am Calm, They Have Guidance
Their hormones are raging, they’re itching to break free from parental control (all while needing us more than ever) and they’re feeling the constant tug of war between their peers and parents. Regardless of what they throw at us, we need to be the calm in their storm. It’s only when we’re calm and in control that we can temper their emotions, get them listening, and offer the important guidance they need to stay on the right track.
When I Walk Away, They Have Time to Reflect
Not every remark deserves a response, not every fight is worth fighting, and not every lecture is worth having. Sometimes, the less said the better. Teenagers, especially boys, need time to process information. In fact, some studies suggest it takes boys up to seven hours to process information. Stay in control, say what needs to be said, and walk away. Give them time to reflect and take it all in. Trust me, they’re listening.
When I Support Them, They Have a Foundation
The best way to prepare kids for adulthood is by providing them with a strong foundation, which means we need to be a rock in our kids’ lives – steadfast, ever-present, and unyielding – supporting (not carrying) them on their journey. Rather than consuming ourselves with paving the road ahead for our kids, we need to focus on preparing our kids for the road.
Let them try. Let them fail. Let them learn to manage life’s ebb and flow to gain knowledge, resilience, and strength. By providing a rock-solid foundation as they trudge through life, we’re empowering them with confidence, fortitude, and tenacity.
When I Stop Nagging, They Listen
As tempting as it is to offer constant (nagging) reminders to clean their bedroom, do their homework, wear deodorant, and bring their PE clothes home, just stop. There is nothing teenagers dislike more than being nagged. Your relationship with your teen is far more important than clothes on the floor or an occasional missed assignment. Make a list of what needs to be done, give them a timeframe to complete it, and follow up if and when necessary.
When I Trust Them, They Act Responsibly
A teenage boy recently told me, “I wish my parents realized that I’m a pretty good kid compared to a lot of other teenagers these days.” He’s right. As parents, we often think the worst of our kids rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, they will make mistakes.
They will mess up. They will disappoint you, frustrate you, and even make you cry. But here’s a spoiler alert – most teenagers are great kids who are trying their best. The more we hover, question, and try to control our kids, the more likely they’ll be to rebel. The more trust we place in them, the more likely they’ll be to act responsibly and fight to avoid letting us down.
When I Take Interest, They Share Their World
When our kids were little we took interest in everything they did. Every new step, every new word, and every new experience was met with enthusiasm. Why should it be any different now that they’re teenagers?
They need us to be interested. They need us to notice. They need us to care. Offer your teen a listening ear, ask questions, and dive into what matters to them. Ask about their life, their dreams, their friends, or what’s happening in school. Listen more than you talk. Laugh more than you lecture. And, accept more than you reject.
When I Relinquish Control, We’re a Team
Team: To come together as partners to achieve a common goal. Our goal, as parents, is to groom our kids to become honest, hardworking, capable adults so they can manage in this world without us. Our kids’ ultimate goal is to become independent and self-governing so they can eventually move out, make their own decisions, and live their own lives once and for all. The goals are essentially the same.
Put a halt to the battle, resistance, and control and instead focus on reaching the goal together. Share the responsibility, share the control, share in the decision-making, share the blame – focus on working together as a team.
You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight. You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream. You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life. Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them will remain.
~ Mother Teresa