For me, it seems, this responsibility we’ve been given as parents only proves to become harder and harder as our children get older. To be quite honest, there are some times when I wish I could trade some of these tough moments with my teenagers for the hours I spent trying to get them to eat their vegetables as toddlers, or the long afternoons of potty training, or even the sleepless nights with them as newborns. With teenagers come a greater need for wisdom and understanding, grace to navigate the deep conversations and topics with them, and a willingness to truly listen to them.
I say all this in the wake of some pretty big conversations we have had with our teenagers. As they get older, we are no longer able to dictate what they do every waking moment, how they are to express their feelings, what to think, or with whom they interact. They have thoughts and opinions of their own, and I know that mine are not afraid to discuss them with us. Recognizing that our teenagers’ thoughts and opinions will sometimes differ from our own is part of the battle I face as their mother.
There have been many things I have learned from my children these past 15 years, but none seem as important as what I have learned about my older children this past week. I’m sure if you were to ask your teenagers, they may say the same. I can be certain, as my younger children grow, they will want for me to understand these things about them, as well.
1. They want to talk about the major stuff
Sex, drugs, religion, politics – these are the topics they want to discuss. They are curious about sex and drugs, They are eager to formulate their own thoughts about religion and politics. They are researching on their own, talking about these topics with friends and peers, and developing opinions based on their findings. They want to have conversations with us, too. As parents, we can only hope and pray that they will be just as receptive to our influence. After all, they truly want to know what we think, how we feel, and why we believe what we believe.
2. They want to be heard
Just as they desire to know our thoughts, opinions, and feelings, they want us to hear theirs. They want us to really listen to them. Close the laptop, put down the phone, turn off the radio, and really and truly listen. Don’t argue with them or belittle them; no insinuating that their opinions don’t matter; but hear them out.
3. They want us to be honest with them
My kids have always asked lots of questions, but as they get older the answers to their questions become less black and white. They don’t want cookie cutter answers, or answers that may make the conversation more comfortable for you; they want real and honest answers. And, boy, is that hard!
4. They want us to set boundaries and give consequences
Kids thrive best in environments that limit their freedom. They don’t want to have to keep themselves in check and create boundaries for themselves yet, no matter what they say. If all teenagers were honest with themselves (as mine were with me), they would recognize that rules are good for them. Among others, they need to know when and how it is appropriate to make plans, when they are to be home or check in, how they are to talk to us, and how they are to treat their siblings. They also need to be given proper consequences when they get out of line.
5. They want independence and freedom
On the flip side, and in appropriate circumstances, they do desire freedom. Freedom to make their own choices. Freedom to express themselves. Freedom to grow and mature. Independence should be allowed gradually and appropriately. This is certainly not easy, but if teens are treated like children as they grow and mature, they will act like children. Begin treating them like little adults, slowly and gradually, with appropriate responsibilities, and they will begin acting like adults.
6. They want our approval and praise
It is so easy to badger and nag our teens. Harping on them when they don’t do or act as expected can only alienate them. Alternately, if we praise them when they have exceeded our expectations – or even just done what was expected – will drive them to do more. They desire to be appreciated just as we do. Our approval and praise will go a long way to motivate excellence.
7. They want us to respect their privacy
As their bodies and minds grow and mature, so does their desire for privacy, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they just want to retreat and spend some time alone and they desire for us to understand that it is not personal. They also want to be able to have private conversations with each other and their friends. There are some things we are better off not knowing anyway!
8. They want us to be careful not to jump to conclusions and assume the worst
It is so easy to jump to the worst possible conclusion when you come across information, informed or discovered, that you were not expected to come across. My teens have always been very honest when approached with questionable information. They are more than willing to explain, discuss, or defend their actions, knowing there may be consequences. All they ask is that we keep a cool head and not assume the worst, but always ask before jumping to conclusions.
In short, our teenagers are growing up and deserve to be treated like the little adults they are becoming. Of course, they are still developing and growing, so they need us to continue guiding them, with a loving hand and a strong grip, ever so slowly releasing them so they may begin navigate this great big world on their own.