This article, written several years ago, came to mind today when responding to a woman desiring to help her child with positive self-esteem. I thought parents and even grandparents out there would be encouraged by these tips learned from my own parenting experience. Enjoy!
When my children were little, it seemed like every parent my age was dreading the day their children would become teenagers. We all knew horror stories of sweet children who did the Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde thing upon hitting adolescence, turning into almost unrecognizable monsters. In our minds, adolescence was certain to be the end of family peace and happiness as we knew it. I was dreading it more than most, since my children were very close in age. We would have four children in high school simultaneously. We were doomed.
That dreaded season in our lives was soon upon us. To my amazement, those fast paced and crazy years were among the best in our lives. My husband and I loved having a house full of teens. They entertained us with their wonderful humor, broke our hearts with their struggles, and encouraged us by their fledgling commitment to the Lord. Friends stopped over all of the time, and descended on our pantry like locusts. I don’t mean to give you the impression that life was perfect, or that my teens did not present huge challenges to my husband and me. Those years kept us on our knees as we watched our children begin to spread their wings. However, I can tell you there was never a dull moment in the Coleman household.
Now that my children are in college and beyond and living for God, many parents of younger children have come to us to obtain advice on raising children. Of course, children are unique, and not every strategy works for every child. However, there are some general principles that we found to be true as we went through the years of raising our teenagers.
1. Live out your faith like you mean it. No one can smell a phony like a teenager. If you want your children to have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, then model what it looks like for them on a daily basis. I am not talking about following a set of rules here. Children will define our genuineness by the fruit we bear. Our lives should be marked with love, forgiveness, humility and grace. Our fruitfulness is directly related to our personal relationship with God and how closely we are reliant on Him. Be real. Don’t be afraid to show them you are struggling with a spiritual issue. They will learn more from how you deal with conflict and involve the Lord in the process than any words you can say. Children are forgiving when you approach them with humility and let them know you are very aware of your own shortcomings.
2. Make your home a safe and comfortable place. Teens need to know they are significant in your life and home. Home should be a refuge for your teenager. Make it a point to stop what you are doing when your teen comes in the door and ask about their day, activities, or time with friends. Even when I am last to enter the house, I make it a point to go around the house and make personal contact with everyone who is already home.
No one wants to come home to nagging and tension. Adolescents are an easy target for this, since they can be irresponsible, thoughtless, and self-centered. There is so much to nag about! Let your teenager know you like them and are happy they are there at home. Of course, household rules and standards need to be upheld. Just be sure your positive comments far outweigh the negative ones you make.
Warmly welcome your adolescent’s friends. Yes, this can be a scary proposition. Remember that these friends are as intimidated by you as you are intimidated by them! Greet each teen as they enter the house and make a bit of small talk with them. If my kids’ friends were staying for any length of time, I would offer a drink or a snack. Treating them like a welcome and valued guest often surprised my children’s friends. Eventually, they in turn would return the interest in us, even though we were the adults. Teens need love and acceptance just like the rest of the world. They just have a hard time making themselves vulnerable enough to let anyone know it.
3. Pick your battles. I have a friend whose teenage son left the house in tattered and garish clothing she felt was very inappropriate for him to wear in public. As she complained to her husband, he helped her keep perspective with this question: “Is it sin?” That became the quote my husband and I would repeat as we faced issues like piercing, clothing, and hairstyle. Is it sin? We decided early on that outward appearances would change with the times, and we were more interested with what would last for eternity: their commitment to Christ. The fact that my children were living for the Lord with enthusiasm certainly made their outward appearance or other more trivial issues pale in comparison. Major on the major issues, and let the minor ones die.
4. Be available. Teens do not talk when they are not in the mood. Mostly they respond in grunts and one-syllable words. Unfortunately, many parents think that once their kids clear elementary or middle school, it is safe to extend working hours or involvement outside the home. I found that it was the exact opposite with my own family. As their lives became the focus of our household, I dropped many of my own activities and spent a lot of time just hanging around the house. As the kids felt the need to share a problem or discuss an issue, I was ready and available. When I sensed they needed some time, I would stop what I was doing and give them my complete attention. It always seemed that my kids would be in the mood to talk when I was in my nightgown, turning off lights and heading for bed. “Mom, do you have a minute?” I would inwardly sigh and know I would be staying up late again. Those late night talks became the backbone of our relationship as deep thoughts were shared and heart to heart communication took place.
5. Don’t be afraid to touch. Most of my children went through an “anti-touch” phase in their lives during their middle school years. I knew they were not interested in or were embarrassed to be hugged and kissed, so instead I would rub their shoulder or smooth their hair. Find some way to keep physical contact alive. Teenagers need human contact as much as the rest of us. As they matured through adolescence, eventually even my most resistant child began hugging me once more.
6. Stay involved. I am a teacher in a large K-12 Christian school, and it amazes me to see the lack of parent involvement in school once children leave the elementary grades. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to know about your teenager’s world. Go to parent-teacher conferences and open houses. You will be demonstrating your interest in what is important to them with your physical presence. Get to know the leaders in your child’s life: their teachers, coaches, youth leaders, etc. Offer help when you can. I spent six years as the booster’s secretary for my kids’ marching band. I knew more than my children did about upcoming competitions and concerts. I had to be around after practices to hand out fliers and letters to parents. This gave me great opportunities to have contact with the people who were a part of my children’s lives. Sew costumes, stuff envelopes, or be a driver to events. You will get to know other parents as well as your teens’ friends.
7. Be a cheerleader. Whether your adolescent admits it or not, he wants you to see him perform. Gone are the days when your child would call out, “Mom! Dad! Watch this!” They may even verbally discourage you from coming to watch their events. Yet in their hearts, they still value your support and appreciation for their abilities. Whether it is a basketball game, a part in the school play, or a concert, make sure you are there and seated where they can see you. I was the assistant director of the school talent show for a few years. Parents would have been amazed at how many teens peeked through the curtain to make sure their parents had arrived. You will never regret attending a single event.
In summary, loving your child takes on a different slant when you are dealing with the adolescent years, because his needs have changed. Though they are outwardly becoming more independent, they still need your interest, involvement, and godly guidance. Your acceptance and appreciation means so much to them. Give them opportunities to see that you care. The bond that you nurture will be a blessing for the rest of your lives.