Jul 20, 2014

The Teen Whisperer

This blog seems to have turned into what I have learned through the course of being a mom.  Since I've never been one before, I'm forever learning.  This holds true for every phase.  I've never been the parent of a teenager before.  I rather like it.  At times it is maddening, I must confess, but most of the time it is very enlightening.

I'm lucky to spend most every day at home with my kids and my neighbor kids.  I've always been drawn more to kids than people my own age.  I feel like I can relate to them better.  If I'm ever at a party, I'm the one sitting at the 'kid table'.  I just love picking their brains and listening to how they see the world.  I truly find it fascinating.

What I've learned from my time with teens is this:  

1.  They WANT to spend time with adults, specifically their parents.  BUT they want to do this on their own terms.  They want you there.  Just being there is super important.  They don't want to feel forced into having to spend time with you, they want to chose to.  And when given the choice, they will normally chose you.  They are mini grown-ups or grown-ups in training.  The way kids have always learned is by mimicking what they see.  It's no different when they are in adolescent bodies.  Just being there goes a long way.  Being there for the mundane happenstances of life carry much more weight in the long run than those few 'quality time' experiences.  They don't want more stuff - they want more you.

2.  They WANT you to respect and trust them.  This goes a LONG way.  All the hours of time you spent teaching them as children, the difference between right and wrong, politeness, manners, how to make good choices, how to pick friends....they remember these things.  Trust that they are drawing from what's inside them, from the tools you gave them when they were young.  Kids, no matter what their age, will always live up to your expectations.  If  you set the bar low, it shows you don't really have faith in them and feel that your nagging and constant reminding are the only way they will listen.  If you set the bar high, they will reach it.  I've witnessed this too many times to not believe it.  Also, you HAVE to respect them first before they will respect you.

3.  They WILL mess up - let them.  This is the training ground for adulthood.  Let them fail while they are in the safety of their own homes surrounded by people who love them.  Yes, their failures have bigger consequences the older they get and those failures are scary.  But just like learning to ride a bike or learning how to walk - they learn from their many failures.  We HAVE to let our kids fail and we have to be there for them when they do.  We can't fear failure otherwise they will.  Don't hide your past failures from them.  Talk to them about what you learned from your bad choices when you were their age.  Talk to them about the mistakes you still make and how you learn from them.  They will see you as human, just  like them.  Kids often set their parents on a pedestal and feel they do no wrong.  Mercy and compassion go a long way.

4.  They WILL be moody - let them.  They have never been this age before - you have.  Remember what it felt like to be stuck in this new, adult body with emotions, feelings and thoughts you've never had before.  It's weird, scary, confusing.  They need time alone to make sense of all the massive change that is happening in and around them.  Give them time alone to process all of this.  The older more mature person needs to always be more understanding and patient of the less mature.  This is what love does.  It doesn't take their moodiness personally.  It doesn't get offended when they want to be alone.

5.  Your opinion still matters. They want your affirmation.  They want to know they're on the 'right' path.  BUT they don't want to be told how to get there, they want to figure it out for themselves.  The most loving thing to do is to let them.  Encourage them along the way.  Build them up.  Let them know they are on the right track.  They miss valuable lessons by you just telling them what to do at this age. Problem solving is a very important skill to learn.  When they ask your opinion, give it honestly and in some cases delicately for issues of the heart (such as boyfriends and girlfriends).
6.  If you want them to spend time doing what you like, you have to FIRST take an interest in what's important to them.  This is a big deal.  Most parents and teens have vastly different interests and chances are, you are really not into what they are.  For example, my boys are super into Minecraft.  I could really care less about it.  But I need to show an interest in what they like because it's a part of them.  It shows I value them, all sides of them.  They love to show me the worlds they build, they love to talk to me about techniques they used.  I try to ask pertinent quetions.  We've even set up challenges where they build something, make a rubric and then Chuck and I 'grade' each person's design based on the rubric they came up with.  

7. They want you to LISTEN to them.   Really listen.  Stop what you're doing and listen.  Put down the phone, turn off the tv, focus all your attention on them.  Sometimes they don't know how to explain how they feel so their actions show their feelings instead.  Sometimes they want to talk for hours - at 11pm when you want to sleep.  Sometimes we don't want to hear the brutal honesty of what they want to share.  Take the time to listen and not talk.  The action of listening seems to be a lost art.  We love to tell others what we think.  We love to jump into a conversation and try to relate.  We love to make sure our point of view is understood.  But listening involves being silent, giving space and being there. Sometimes your teen may just want to you there so they can vent.  Other times they may talk just to get their thoughts out in the open making them not seem so scary or confusing.  And then there are times when they talk and really, truly, honestly want to hear what you have to say - but they have to initiate. Don't offer advice, help, opinions unless prompted to do so. 
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