What I’ve Learned about Parenting Teenagers Might Offend You

Part of parenting is giving these humans enough space to let them be their own people. It’s a delicate balance of guiding them, equipping them, teaching them social graces, and setting them free. I’ve always felt like it was an honor to be the one to guide these lives but I’ve never felt like I owned them. I’m still very much responsible for holding a position of authority in their life but I also respect their autonomy and personhood. This parenting philosophy has allowed me to learn as much from them during this time as they do from me.

Another of our children crossed over into “teenhood” this month. Thirteen always seems like a monumental year in the life of any child. Lots of parental commentary during the teen years will equate to telling you :”Parenting Teenagers Is the WORST”. I call B.S.

B.S. because unfortunately, Parents, it’s not them. It’s you.

I can say this with confidence because I have been the problem in the past. We’ve gone through the teen years with two children ( 1 boy, 1 girl) already and two more ( 1 boy, 1 girl) to go. I’ll be the first to admit we made mistakes during the first go around, plenty of them if we are being honest. Nobody really knows what to do with the first one, amiright??? We made fewer mistakes during the second attempt and our hopes are high for three and four that we continue to improve. This is not to say that we’ve mastered this teen parenting thing by any means. No, each teenager is their own unique enigma that you will have to figure out the key for.

Each child, and parent, will present their own set of strengths and strongholds. It’s kinda like the freakin’ hunger games, actually. Here’s the thing, teenagers aren’t actually awful. Teenagers are just trying to figure out life, just like you. They are being put into all new situations that they’ve never encountered before. The world is telling them to “grow up” and behave maturely. It’s throwing vocabulary and scenarios in front of them at a rapid pace, none of which they have been trained for, in fact most have been sheltered from any of this in their previous years. P.S. YOU did that.  I know it was in an effort to keep them safe of but you can’t expect them to just magically excel at something they haven’t been trained for.

Their physical bodies are growing like adults but they aren’t adults. Yet when they act like adults they are reminded that they are children, and when they act like children they face consequences for acting as such. Parents, WE are the ones getting it wrong.

Instead of frustration and disappointment, offer grace and patience. Over the next few years you and your children are going to make some mistakes. You might make a lot of them. It’s OK. Allow yourselves the grace to fail. You are all going to be OK. Fewer people are judging you than you think. The parents that have done this before know what you are going through. They are not judging you.  Honestly, anybody participating in parental judging is a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Parenting is a tough gig no matter what stage you are in.

Toddler to Teenager

Good News! Do you remember the extreme amount of patience that the toddler stage required? THAT was your parental training for now. I tell you this not to worry you but to encourage you. You have already trained for this. You are going to experience some of that craziness again but you are both going to do better this time. Here’s why… Remember when your toddler was throwing a fit, screaming, crying, over who knows what insignificant thing back then? Remember that when they behaved irrationally and you knew it was because they were just hungry/tired/needed your sole attention? (pay attention here.) IT’S THE SAME THING NOW! Their behavior isn’t personal. So much of what’s wrong can be solved with good nutrition, a nap, and knowing that they can have your attention when they need it.

Parenting teenagers is a lot like parenting toddlers

You may not be changing diapers anymore but those same basic toddler issues are the root of a good deal of what is upsetting your teen as well. This is not the time to overlook those things.  Now, I do not approve of the hover-parent lifestyle. You’ve done that. We’ve all done that to one extent or another. Give them the space to put in motion what knowledge you’ve already given them. You tell them you trust them, prove it.  Equip your child to take ownership over their own sleep, nutrition, and attention needs. This may seem simple but it’s not. Teach them about the needed amount of protein in the body, why sugar causes emotional crashes, and how water can literally refresh their mind. Do it in a way that isn’t patronizing. Don’t be manipulating but allow it to be “their idea”. They want to make good choices but they are in the “I do it myself” stage again. Make it easy for them to grab high protein bars, nuts, fruits, healthy fats, or shakes instead of sugar to refuel. If they are going to be successful adults they are going to have to make these choices themselves.

Everyone needs a nap sometimes. Even you parents. If you feel like you might lash out, take a quick 10 min rest time before responding. Things will look different after you’ve slept.

Be the example of not being ruled by your emotions. I was terrified when I had daughters that they would be girls that made decisions led by how they felt. For the record, that’s a behavior that is not exclusive to one gender. This season of parenting is going to be scary. You both are going to be a little apprehensive about what happens next, day to day, minute to minute. Don’t make fear based rules for your children. Make smart ones. Trust your intuition.

Do not forsake a future relationship with your adult children for fear based rules today.

Be available for them. No matter how much you may think they don’t want you around ( they might even say it) they need you around. They need you more than ever. They need your approval, your reassurance and your unconditional love. They don’t need you because they aren’t capable, they need you as a safe space in the world. Every day they are encountering literally hundreds of people at their school just like them trying to figure out who they are. By pure percentages, they are sure to encounter people who have behaved poorly to them that day. They have to figure out how to respond. Some days they’ll get it right. Some days they’ll get it terribly wrong. All of that weighs on their mind and emotions.  Wait until they come to you to offer advice. When they come to you to talk, ask them if they just need a listening ear or if they want advice. Most often they don’t need you to fix it, they just need to get it out of their head and when they hear it all said out loud they have the solution.

Last piece of advice, over the next few years when these teens seems to have lost their minds, try to see back to the sweet tiny person you knew a decade or so ago and handle this person with the same amount of love and patience. Don’t scream back. Don’t allow these actions to determine your reaction or rattle your emotions. Just know that you are the perfect parent for this human in front of you and they are the perfect human for you.

You are both doing a great job and It really is going to be okay.

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  1. Susan M Drake says:

    Wonderful article!!!!! And so true! The teen years can be difficult (as toddler years could be also) but there is so much joy in seeing your babies making good decisions and becoming who they are meant to be. There are definitely unique challenges each and every day and some of them can test you to your limits. I can remember after some emotional situations going into their room while they were sleeping and just looking at them .. remembering when they were small … and remembering how much I loved them. Both of my children are grown now and one even has three children of her own! It is strange, but I don’t remember too much of the difficult times, but I do remember how I felt when they hit a milestone or jumped a major hurdle in their life.

  2. I love this! My oldest will cross over into teenage-hood this June and I really appreciate your advice and tips.

  3. Great piece! I appreciated all of it but think this was my favorite: “Honestly, anybody participating in parental judging is a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.” Here’s to fewer jerks, less judgment and more support for our fellow parents!

  4. ❤️ this! I needed this in my life more than you know! I’ve never thought about how raising toddlers as training for raising teens.
    Kristi recently posted…Free Things To Do in HoustonMy Profile

  5. This is great! I mean, we aren’t there yet. BUT WE AREN’T THAT FAR. And I know it goes fast. 🙂

  6. Hahah!!! Yes so true. I have often said she is like a toddler with hormones of the teen and now I have two. Great reminders here. They really do not have the skill set.

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