Parents surviving teen years

Many parents complain teenagers just don’t listen. This is true — they don’t. But they do watch. The trouble they get into is due not so much to failure to do what they are told, but success in doing what they have seen. When parents tell teenagers one thing but themselves act differently, what they do trumps what they say. If we are to persuade teens to live wholesomely, we need to live this way ourselves; not simply to reinforce what we say but to demonstrate how exactly to accomplish life.

The teen years can be a monstrous ordeal for both kids and parents, and they very often are. However, it does not need to be this way, and we must work to ensure they are not. It requires recognizing the nature of adolescence and the effort to understand. We cannot expect teenagers to be anything other than adolescents—neither less nor more.

When I was a young pastor in New Jersey, we had the church teens for an evening in the parsonage. Although it was a successful time, it exhausted us both. I commented to Ann, “Do you think we can apply somewhere to skip the teen years with our children?” If such a foolish, although forgivable, wish were possible, neither would they now be mature adults nor would we have accomplished our job.

Nor would we be grandparents now. Someone has said being grandparents is our reward for not killing our children when they were teens.

I find no historical evidence that anyone invented adolescence, but it was not here a century ago. Children were children for fifteen or seventeen years and abruptly they were adults—working, married, and themselves parenting. There was no transition from childhood to adulthood.

Adolescence is a transition, but it is seldom smooth with a steady progression. They can be maddeningly immature one day and thrillingly mature the next. Or, one moment the boy can be a child, the next an adult, and then as quickly a child again. It can happen within the syntax of a single sentence. The girl can begin sounding like an adult and end it like a child. She looks like a princess in her prom gown — and pops bubble gum. He looks handsome in a tux — and plays leap frog.

They still need and even want affection from their parents. But parents need to learn how to express and demonstrate their affection appropriate to adolescents — not adolescents in general, but yours in particular. Nor will all yours respond in the same way. While there can be no universal guidelines, one does come close, i.e.: Do not demonstrate serious affection in front of their peers.

Tell each, every now and then, that you love them — but not in front of others. And don’t expect this to be reciprocated. Know them well enough you can recognize other ways they find to tell you the same — and believe it.

Girls are easier, usually; but boys also need your expression of love. At least once during adolescence, father, look your son right in the eye and say exactly: Son, I love you. He’ll never forgive you, but he’ll never forget it.

Don’t try yourself to act like a teenager — especially not in front of their friends. Don’t even try to use their language; it’s designed and used to shut us out of their private conversations. Nothing can humiliate your children more than to put on an act in front of their friends, and nothing will create contempt more easily and lastingly. They don’t want an over-sized teenager; they want a Mom and a Dad.

Don’t be offended if they treat you dismissively in front of their friends. It’s an act they don’t themselves believe — nor do they want to believe it.

By the time our children reached the teens, we had come to understand teens. Those years were some of the best of our lives as we watched them, anxiously, grow to be themselves. Come to think of it, they were downright fun years.

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