This Post: What Teenagers Really Need From Their Parents
When my oldest daughter became a teenager I was completely blindsided.
After changing thousands of diapers, handling temper tantrums in the middle of Target because I wouldn’t buy a $400 electric car, spending countless nights on the floor next to my daughter’s crib, and making four million trips to the doctor for everything from a raging ear infection to an unexplained rash that showed up overnight, I figured I was ready for anything.
Boy, was I wrong…
When my daughter hit the teen years, I would have given anything to go back to the days when my biggest worries were how many times a day she pooped or whether she would share her toys on playdates.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the erosion of my confidence as a parent. Everything I knew, every parenting trick, technique and strategy I had come to rely on no longer worked. In those early days, I had no idea what I was doing and I was sure I wasn’t giving my daughter what she needed.
Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now… I would have handled things so much differently.
After having hundreds of conversations with other parents along with lessons I learned in the trenches, here are the top 10 things teenagers really need from their parents.
What Teenagers Really Need from Their Parents
To be the calm in their storm
The life of a teenager is stressful. Expectations are huge, peer pressure is enormous, and every grade matters for college, not to mention the physical and emotional changes they’re going through. They’re being told to care about everything when all they really care about is being carefree. Be the calm in their storm and their safe place to land when life gets hard. They need an advocate who understands how emotional and stressful it is being a teenager and who not only lets them, but helps them dial their stress down on a notch.
Patience… lots of patience
When you’ve run out of patience, dig for more. Raging hormones and unpredictable mood swings along with (what seems like) their desire to wear you down to your very last nerve can leave you feeling exhausted and worn out. But think of it this way, they’re readying their wings to fly. The next time you’re on the verge of losing it, remember that without a hefty dose of patience things have a tendency to go south very quickly which can make interactions with your child even more difficult, emotionally upsetting, and chaotic. Take a break, walk away, take a drive, and THEN come back when you’re calm.
To know unquestionably what’s okay and what’s not
Teenagers are hardwired to push boundaries, which is why it’s so important to make sure our kids know, upfront, what’s okay and what’s not. Don’t wait to have important conversations with your kids. Have them when they’re tweens (or even earlier) so your kids know your position on alcohol, drugs, dating, vaping, sleepovers, etc. and what the consequences are for breaking your rules. Be firm. Be consistent. But remember, boundaries shouldn’t be handcuffs. The ultimate goal is to instill a family “belief system” based on mutual respect and open communication.
To be their biggest cheerleader
No matter how big or small their achievements are, fill your teen’s self-esteem bucket to the brim. Show up at their practices, root for them at their games, praise them for the math test they aced, or how they handled an argument with a friend. Every accomplishment in their life has value. Each one is a stepping stone that builds confidence and teaches them a little more about who they are and what they’re capable of achieving.
Freedom to figure a few things out on their own
There’s a famous quote that states, “Freedom is not worth having if it doesn’t include the freedom to make mistakes.” We need to view our kids’ mistakes as creative attempts to satisfy their curiosity about life. We need to step aside (with plenty of guidance, of course) and encourage – and sometimes even push – the rebel inside them to figure a few things out on their own.
To feel the warmth of our touch
You lean in for a hug and they pull away. You open their bedroom door to check on them and they ask you to leave. As difficult as it might be, don’t take it personally. Despite the “back off” cues you might be getting from your teen, don’t give up on them. Slip in those hugs, knuckle bumps, shoulder nudges, or backrubs as often as you can. They may not act interested or appreciative, but even the moodiest teenager needs (and loves) the warmth of their parents’ touch.
To be present in their lives
One of the greatest gifts you can give your teen is your time. Put the phone down, turn off the television, and grab those moments… they’re fleeting. Keep in mind, though, that teens are fickle. One minute they’re in their bedroom determined to shut out the world, and the next they’re plopping themselves on your bed (typically at 10 p.m. at night when you’re exhausted) ready to tell you about their day. Drop everything. Listen with all your heart. Above all, stay close and emotionally connected. What teenagers really need from their parents is to be there – when they need you and even when they don’t.
Guidance even when they’re unaccepting
There will be times your teen won’t listen, times they’ll get frustrated, times they’ll fight you… offer guidance anyway. You have decades of life experience under your belt that can help your child avert big mistakes. Even if they act like they aren’t listening, take comfort in knowing they’re taking it all in. They may not listen now, but one day, when the chips are down, they’ll remember every word you said.
For us to remember what it feels like to be a teenager
We need to raise our kids with the memories of our teen years tucked in our back pocket. We weren’t perfect. We made mistakes. We broke rules. And, our teens will do the same. Expect it.
To love them fiercely and unconditionally (even when they’re not very loveable)
Love them fiercely, even on their worst days. Love them when they’re moody, tired, selfish, talking back or on those days when they’re mad at the world. It’s when they’re at their worst that they need you the most. Don’t give up on them. They need to know that you are their rock and that your love is unconditional. They may think you’re always on their back, but one day they’ll realize you were the only one who had their back.
I think the most important lesson I learned is that teenagers absolutely need their parent’s involvement in their lives to thrive. They need to feel safe and loved unconditionally every single day – even when it’s hard as hell.
So, don’t give up on your teen or feel as though you’ve exhausted all efforts so now, “they’re on their own.” Your teen NEEDS you – today, tomorrow, next year, and well into their adult years. I know some days are hard, but one day they’ll thank you for giving them what they needed and never giving up on them.
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