"Parenting teenagers" my brother once said, iIs God's way of helping parents prepare for the empty nest.... because you start to long for the nest to be empty!"
I'm not sure this is entirely true, but I do know that parenting teenagers requires patience, firmness and grace all mixed together. Although adolescence is a relatively brief period of time, it often gives rise to emotional extremes that include excitement, anxiety, hope, elation, frustration and despair (and that's just for the parent!).
And when I think about time running out, I certainly do have a nagging feeling that I should spend more time with the people I really care about, deal with my social media habit, get focused, knuckle down, finally decide what I want to do with what remains of my life and then do it with ruthless efficiency before it is too late.
Every teen, in the span of a few short years, is required to make the leap from childhood to young adulthood. Where else in one's life is so much expected in such a short time?
Along with these rapid changes on the road to adulthood, comes exceptional levels of stress. The pressures of the moment can feel overwhelming to the young adolescent.
The capacity to calmly and logically work out reasonable solutions to life problems still forming at this age. Many teens respond by impulsively acting out, and ignoring all parental advice (after all, “only children listen to their mother and father”).
Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your kids. It's a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. Watch a show with them; you will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives—and guidance. Don't just monitor them online—interact with them, so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
Everyone knows of teens who, when faced with these sorts of pressure, made unwise decisions that led to crushing heartache.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the turmoil of these years. Part of the solution was discussed in an early Psychology Today article that focused on what parents could do in this regard.
What follows below, however, focuses on what the adolescent can do. If a teen will follow the five rules set out below, really take them to heart and apply them consistently, these years are much more likely to be a time of healthy growth, strength, and yes, even wonder.
The Second Middle Age
Let’s move on and look at five pieces of advice for teens.
ONE: FIND TRUSTED MENTORS
The few short years it takes to travel between the eastern shores of childhood and the western shores of young adulthood are a time of both great excitement and confusion. It is not unlike trying to take a boat across the Colorado River, going from one side to the other. Exhilarating and frightening. The main thing is to cross safely, to get to the other side. If you do so without too many bumps and bruises, you’ll come away stronger.
Pay attention at age 14. That's when most kids start to resist peer influence and flex the think-for-myself muscle, rather than simply following the leader, according to a study published in Developmental Psychology. Want to help strengthen that muscle at any age? Put screens aside and circle the wagons every night. Ask, "What's new with your friends?" This will (here's hoping, if he talks) give you a chance to decode what's happening behind the scenes and offer support.
But how to do so? Just as one would when navigating the Colorado River rapids, so too one must when navigating adolescence: rely on those who have previously made the crossing. Who would these be? Adults. Best of all trusted adults. Parents, teachers, youth ministers, the parents of friends, etc. No matter their age, these adults remember well the trials of this crossing. The ones you want to trust are those that are sympathetic to the challenges you face, confident in your ability to succeed, and excited for the journey upon which you have embarked. It may not be ‘cool’ to lean on adults, these experienced river guides, but it is wise.
TWO: RESIST PEER PRESSURE
The temptation to follow the crowd will be particularly great during adolescence. Resist with all your might. Most of the pressure, nearly all of it, is applied by young people who are feeling even more insecure than you. By giving in you momentarily win the approval of your peers (or at least avoid their disapproval), but you lose a little bit of yourself. How so? If by following peer pressure you turn your back on what you hold to be right and true, then you’ve turned your back on an essential part of who you are… your ideals. So, hang on more tightly to your ideals than to acceptance by peers.
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THREE: BE A PERSON OF HIGH PRINCIPLE
If you’re scratching your head, trying to figure out the advice given in number two above, the following should help. Your happiness in life will largely depend on what you hold to be fundamentally true:
Is there a God and if so what is he like?
What are the highest expressions of love?
Are honesty, courage, compassion, loyalty and other virtues required of me, or simply qualities that might be good to cultivate?
Now it’s perfectly true that knowing what is good and beautiful will not guarantee a happy life, but it’s also true that if one is unable to recognize the good, unable to identify genuine beauty, and confused about what are good values versus bad, then he or she has little hope of achieving a deeply happy life. This is no different than expecting that someone who could not recognize gold would become a successful gold miner. So spend some time reflecting on the higher things in life, determining what is good, and what is worth investing the capital of your energies and passions pursuing. Then think back to peer pressure and read again that advice. It may make more sense.
FOUR: DON’T LET THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF THIS BRIEF TIME IN YOUR LIFE CAUSE YOU TO DOUBT YOURSELF
Everyone who crosses the rapids of adolescence has moments of doubt, fatigue, and fear. That’s to be expected, but these states of mind need not take root. The anecdote is to keep close to those who believe in you and care for you most deeply. Be they family or friends, keep these supports near – don’t push them away when tempted to do so (and there will be times when you are tempted to do just that). Develop habits, or routines, that include meaningful time together with those who support you. Whether this includes regular coffee dates, ‘friends only Fridays’, or whatever you wish, keep them close and let them know when you need support. And if you are a believer, then obviously the one you need to keep closest to is Christ. He would let you know that “Life is tough, and the teen years are difficult, but you’re just great by me.”
Say "I love you" whenever you feel it, even if it's 743 times a day. You simply can not spoil a child with too many mushy words of affection and too many smooches. Not possible.
FIVE: HAVE FUN
In fact, have a blast. Sure, be responsible, be smart, follow the rules, and so forth…. But enjoy yourself. Don’t get so focused on how rough the water is, how fast the current runs, and how far the shore looks from where you sit that you lose the capacity to enjoy the ride. Trust me, you’ll eventually paddle into the eddies on the shores of young adulthood, staggering out of the boat exhausted, relieved, and wobbly legged, but you’ll get there and a new adventure will stretch out before you. But before that time, while still in the rapids, enjoy the ride.