I grew up slightly unconventionally. I become a very independent child and young adult. Sadly I didn’t have the closest relationship with either of my parents growing up and had to figure out a lot of things on my own. Now that I’m a mom myself, I find myself Googling and learning from friends as new situations come up as I’m parenting teens. I don’t always have a point of reference from my own childhood and that can make things a little bit tricky. And boy have things changed since I was a teenager! Here are some things I’m doing to keep my tween and teen on the right track:
Talk to Your Kids
You want them to talk to you about the big stuff, so you need to talk about the little stuff too. Some conversations require the structure and seriousness of sitting at the kitchen table. Others are simply chit chat while you’re running errands after school. All those little moments build trust and give you a window to what’s happening with your kiddos.
Learn What They Like
When they were younger, it was almost impossible to not know what your kids were into. You couldn’t avoid the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the television and you were throwing princess and pirate birthday parties. Even though they’re growing up, make the effort to learn about the things they’re obsessed with now. Maybe they’re really interested in going camping and learning about plants or wildlife. And no maybe it’s not your favorite things, but making the effort and planning a camping weekend can make a huge impact. Including their friends can make a difference too and will give you even more insight into your teen and what they’re like when you’re not around.
There’s No Set Timeline
Probably the hardest thing about parenting is that there’s no set timeline. Sure there’s the terrible twos (and threes!) and milestones like starting school. Since that’s the case, I can’t tell you (or know for myself) that at 11 your son’s going to go girl crazy. Or that at 13 they’ll begin to hate school. Or that they’ll start sleeping in (that was the one “teen thing” I was most looking forward to and it hasn’t happened yet…). Because you’re talking with your kids, you’ll have a good idea of what they’re into and what’s happening, but don’t stress if it doesn’t seem like they’re doing what everyone else is.
Find Your Comfort Level
It’s going to be different for every family, and honestly probably every member of your family. I didn’t grow up talking about sex with my parents so it’s super uncomfortable to talk about, especially with my kids. But I don’t want to become a grandma any time soon, so I need to overcome that and make sure they understand they basics.
Tackle Things as They Come Up
As you’re dealing with different issues in life, let your kids know about them. Are you sitting down to pay the bills? Let your teen sit with you. If you’re not comfortable with them seeing your actual pay information, you can always use fictional amounts with them. Having the understanding of how to make a budget, how to pay a bill, how to write a resume, responding to a jury summons, and grocery shopping are all things they need guidance with.
Consistency is Important
It’s funny how quickly kids pick up on when you’re bending (or completely ignoring) the rules. When you tell them coming home late for curfew means they loose the privilege to drive for a week, that doesn’t mean you can ask them to run to the store for you. As much of a punishment as it is for you, they need to learn their lesson too. And if you let them off the first time, what you’re teaching them is that you don’t mean what you say so why should they listen next time?
Don’t Forget You’re the Parent
It amazes me as I watch kids in social situations. Some are beyond spoiled and entitled. Just because they’re a little older doesn’t mean they don’t need rules and consequences. I get it…the mom guilt can be a lot. As you’re looking at your teenager, thinking there’s only three summers left with them, it can be hard to follow through with chores and punishments and curfews and such. Think about your teen in a work environment. Are you helping them be successful in their job? A manager doesn’t have the mom guilt and needs the rules to be followed.
Don’t forget about the basic skills to keep yourself afloat. If you’ve got a teen, that means that soon they’ll be off to college or their own apartment. Start thinking about what they need to know to live on their own. Do they know how to do the laundry? Make a few basic meals? Clean the bathroom? Take care of the yard? Do basic handywork? All good things to know and start practicing now while they’re at home and can ask lots of questions.
Unless you live in a large city where they’re able to take public transportation, your teens are going to need to learn to drive at some point. For me, I learned to drive while I was on the lawnmower cutting grass, driving a tractor in a field, or driving a snowmobile. By the time I was old enough to drive a car, it was no big deal. Since I’m not raising my kids in the country, I don’t have those opportunities to teach them to drive. I’m thinking we might start with a golf cart before we move to an actual vehicle.
This can be a slippery slope for sure. Before dating happens, I think there needs to be some honest conversation with your child. Define what dating means for your family. It could mean spending time with a friend you care about when your child starts dating. As they grow, you’ll need to talk about love and what kind of relationship will be allowed and supported while your children are living with you. Set the groundwork from the beginning to help them have successful relationships.
With dating comes breaking up and broken hearts. It’s so hard to watch your baby be in pain. Provide support for your child and show them healthy ways to heal that broken heart. It could be a good time for them to journal or have some one on one time with you to talk if they want to. Let them know that it’s certainly normal to take some time to mourn the relationship and be sad, but help them to see all the other positive things happening in their lives as well.
As you grow up, there’s more and more pressure. Getting good grades to get college scholarships. Having a job to be able to save for college. Getting into the “right” college. Coping with moving away from home from the first time. Having to make new friends in a new place. There’s so much that your child is going to need to learn and cope with. Even if they’re staying home or not going to college, life shifts once you graduate high school. Share tips with your child about how to cope with these situations. It could be journaling, talking with you or friends, or even talking to a therapist. Having a real and honest talk about depression and anxiety might save your child or help them to help someone else they meet.
No matter where you live, at some point it’s bound to happen. Your child will wind up in a situation where there will be drinks or someone will be talking about drinking. If you haven’t talked to your child about this before, they may not know how to react. You can talk about hypothetical situations or share your own experiences if you’re comfortable with that. Knowing the expectations and that your child will have your support if they wind up in a tough situation can make handing it easier for them. Be clear about you being willing to pick them up if their ride drinks and isn’t able to drive home if that’s something you’re willing to do. Also be clear about consequences if your rules are broken.
You’ve got to know your stance on substance use. Will you allow your children to drink coffee? At what age? Will you allow your children to smoke? Do drugs? Of course your opinions may change, but having a plan before the situations present themselves will help you when the situation actually presents itself. Many of these things are life lessons that you can talk about long before your children are teenagers. Talking about how to care for your body is an ongoing discussion that starts at a young age.
There are so many things to tackle when you’re parenting a teen. What advice do you have or what tips would you share with other moms of teens?