I’m frequently asked questions that revolve around parenting 12–18 year olds, so I’ll throw out a series of what I think could be called Best Practices for Parenting Teenagers. I’m not sure how many there will be, but so far there’s one.
One thing Andy and I discovered while parenting teenagers was the “Constant Conversation” approach. As our kids transitioned into their teenage years, we transitioned our parenting style as well. We replaced several hard and fast rules with constant conversations.
Rather than set bedtimes, there needed to be room for flexibility. Instead of a strict curfew, we discovered the need to vary it based on specific people and places. A predetermined number of “screen-time” hours needed ebb and flow based numerous variables. For girls particularly, clothing choices and appropriate outfits needed to be a constant conversation.
Conversations enrich relationships with our kids. Not only do they allow the parent to communicate direction, they allow the son or daughter to feel heard.
One of the quickest ways to shut down teenagers is to bark out commands without giving them the opportunity to respectfully express an opinion. Funny thing, sometimes in the process of the conversation, we get a few more facts and discover that we were wrong. Funnier thing, sometimes in the process of the conversation, they actually arrive at the decision that we know will ultimately be THE outcome. And they thought it was their idea!
So why is it so hard? Well, simply stated, it just takes more time and energy than establishing mandates and requiring adherence to a list of rules. At least it does initially. Anyone who has parented teenagers knows there WILL be conversations. Sometimes they’re loud ones. Why not plan for conversations and, by inviting them, diffuse the potential angst ahead of time?
Of course, there are times when the parent just has to say no. Or, has to lay down the law and be the bad guy. That’s just the nature of parenting. But, if we can open two-way conversations, even if we end up at the same “lay down the law” destination, we allow our kids to feel heard. We invest in the relationship at a deeper level. And, we pave the way to future friendship.