Navigating the teenage years is no easy task.
Where did the time go? It feels like yesterday you were teaching them to walk and talk. As soon as they mastered both skills, we held our breath every time they talked and chased after them when they walked/ran away. And we thought the Terrible Twos were hard. In no time flat, they were off to school, new friends, new responsibilities and new challenges.
When my children went to kindergarten, it was only half a day, three hours. I would put my innocent, sweet, adorable little boys on the school bus the first day, and when they got off the bus, they were a completely different person. My favorite part was when you would try to tell them something, if they disagreed they would say, “my teacher said…” Really, your word had been replaced.
It’s hard to remember they think they’re all grown up: and there lies the problem. The first obstacle to successfully navigate this extremely difficult time is to know who you’re dealing with. Proceed with caution, you’re in enemy territory. Trust me, it is a challenge. Here is the hardest part; teenagers range from 13 to 19. Everything in their world is changing: bodies, minds and emotions. Younger teenagers act like adolescents one minute, adults the next.
Come to think of it, that never changes. Think about it: how many adults have you dealt with acting like a child? Don’t bother answering, it was really a rhetorical question. There’s a lot of pressure associated with that age group: peer, school, and what they want to be and do for the rest of their lives. We can all agree this is a very stressful time for them, but when you’re the parent, and they’re driving you crazy in the throws of a teenage temper tantrum, it’s hard to remember.
So, here are my best suggestions, they have served me well, and passed the test of time. These worked the best with my four boys. First and foremost, pick your battles. Every teenager has just so many “NO’S” they are willing to accept before they turn you off completely. Pick the ones that mattered the most.
My list started with, no drugs, no alcohol and no sex, or at the very least, safe sex. Many parents feel uncomfortable talking about sex. Do it anyway. Communication at all stages is vital. Don’t talk “TO” them, talk “WITH” them.
I can hear some of you now asking while your head is shaking, “And exactly how do you do that”? The answer is hard to do, but easier than you think. Learn to listen. That does not mean you are going to agree with everything they say, but if you do not give them an opportunity to voice their opinion, they are not going to listen to yours.
Whenever I had a conflict with one of my children, and there were many, I used the 5-5-5 technique. Take notes, write this down. And my experience has a 99% success rate. Get a timer, find a private space and sit facing each other. First five minutes they have the floor. They can say anything they want, and no matter what, all you can do is listen. Expect all the reasons (excuses) they want to share. Watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper. Put on your poker face and watch them lay all their cards down. The hardest part of this for you is not laughing.
At the end of the five minutes, separate for another five minutes. This is a really important part of the exercise. Do not allow them to invest in an argument. This is the time where there is no talking. They’ve gotten themselves all riled up by that point and we need to give them five minutes to deflate their emotional state. If they haven’t gotten it all out and started calming themselves down you are wasting your breath. Remember you’ve already won, so relax. They have told you exactly what their convoluted thinking was and now we can calmly address each individual point and offer an alternative plan of action for the future.
Again, sit face-to-face. Reset the timer for five minutes, and now it is your turn to talk, and their turn to listen. I always had them go first, wait five minutes for them to calm down, knowing I heard them. Then and only then was there an opportunity for them to listen. Don’t make this about being right; locate the truth. We all make mistakes. Teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we learn the lesson and don’t keep repeating our transgression.
Whenever I made a mistake when they were growing up, I would apologize and ask them for forgiveness. Remember, you taught them all the life skills you deemed important. Don’t drop the ball now. It’s time to up the ante and let them practice making life decisions. Practice makes perfect, and it doesn’t matter what age you are, no one is perfect.
I had a mother approach me one day. Our children were classmates and had just graduated high school that past June. She was very upset because her daughter had left for college and kept calling her, asking advice on every single little thing she was going to do. Her mother was very frustrated. I asked only one question. In this particular case, less was more: “At what age did you start to teach her how to make her own decisions?” I already knew the answer, so I felt a little guilty when I saw the puzzled look on her face. Think deer in headlights!
Learn to listen first, and then be the voice of reason, without judgment. Asking questions invests them in the problem. If possible allow them to find the solution. If they think it was their idea, there’s a better chance they will follow through. And if they continue to go on what you consider a wild goose chase, I’d simply stop offering my advice, smile, and say, “Good luck with that and let me know how it works out for you.” As soon as I said that to one of my kids, they screeched to a halt, turned around and said, “What do you know that I don’t know?”
Two thoughts come to mind. The first is we teach people in our lives how to interact with us. In this case, if her daughter was incapable of making a decision without her mother‘s approval, that was a learned behavior. Second, when offering advice, you must be willing to accept responsibility for what you’ve said. This does not mean it’s always going to work out perfectly. The way I deal with this is by making sure before we hang up that I tell the person this is only my opinion. I do not have the answer book. So relax, they’re not done yet. And a, by the way, neither are you.