Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On Raising Teens ...

A friend of mine recently asked if I had any advice on raising teens, especially those who are new to high school. While I don’t claim to be an expert, I did have some thoughts come to mind that I shared with her. I thought I would also share them with you.

So here are 10 things to consider when raising teens.

1. Have a plan and have words to say when something doesn’t go right with peers.

There are lots of ways to do this, but the first step is talking to your teen. There’s no doubt that your teen will eventually be put in an uncomfortable position. Maybe a friend offers them drugs or alcohol. Maybe they get to a party and realize no parents are home or things are happening they don’t agree with. Maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend is pressuring them sexually.

The biggest favor you can do for your teen is help them make a plan on what to do and what to say when this happens. I have told my boys to blame me on whatever the issue is that makes them uncomfortable. “My mom will ground me for life if I do that.” Whether that’s true or not, it’s easy to blame the fun-hater parent. Other words they can use are, “I’m not feeling well and need to leave.” They could offer a simple, “no thanks,” or “I’m not into that.” We have a text code if I need to come rescue them from a situation.

Whatever the situation, prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s much easier to make a mistake when you haven’t thought through your response before it happens.

2. Help your teen open his or her own checking account.

Not only does having a checking account help teach teens responsibility and money management, it helps them prioritize what they really want and what they can live without. I love being able to say to my sons, “Do you have money for that?” So, I give them a monthly allowance. When they are out of money, they are out. If they want to spend all of their money on icees and donuts, power to them. But I don’t bail them out when they REALLY want to go to that movie or REALLY want that new fidget spinner.

Sometimes I will offer them more money for a job they do for me, or I give them some extra money if something unexpected and important comes up, but I mostly let them learn from their mistakes. It is important to open an account that you have access to and performs the functions you want it to. For example, I have my son’s account setup to not let his debit card go through if there is not enough money in the account. This way insufficient funds fees are not accrued.

3. Encourage your teen to have a job.

I started talking to my 15-year-old son before his freshman year about working. He has now started a little lawn mowing business with a friend. I have told him that he needs to save as much money as possible now so that he will have money to do things with friends and buy gas for his car during the school year.

A job also teaches responsibility. And hopefully it will also teach the importance of getting a strong education.

4. Model the type of behavior you hope your teen has when he or she isn’t with you.

There was this moment recently when I had the opportunity to do something nice for someone in front of my son. While I might have done it anyway, I jumped at the chance to do it since I knew my son was watching. I want my boys to know that kindness is the most important trait there is, and that it is valued in our home. Modeling kindness is my way of hoping my boys will practice kindness, too.

This goes for chores around the house, too. I will ask my son to pick up a room and I will get back, “but that’s not my mess.” I remind him that we do things for others in our family. Hopefully this will carry over into life.

This is not the easiest thing on this list. Sometimes I am having a bad day or I’m in a bad mood and don’t especially want to model the type of behavior that I want from my kids. It is the MOST important to model the behavior now. These are the days I tend to make a mistake. So the most important modeling I do is apologizing when I do make a mistake. It is so easy to make an excuse instead of an apology because I am the adult. However, if I want my boys to be compassionate, apologetic men who own up to making mistakes, I have to do the same thing. I have to tell them I am sorry and ask for forgiveness when I am wrong. We are all human and all make mistakes, so owning my mistakes is important.

5. Teach your teen life skills, such as checking out at the grocery store, filling a prescription and making appointments.

I had a great moment recently. My boys and I were headed to an end-of-school banquet for my oldest son and our family was supposed to bring dessert. As we pulled up to the store, I gave my son my debit card and told him to pick out a dessert that he would like to have for the banquet. Amazingly, he hopped out of the car, ran inside, and came out two minutes later with iced sugar cookies. No complaining. No arguing. No weeping and gnashing of teeth. He. Just. Did. It.

This is a big deal because there was a time when he would have panicked and refused. So, that was when I started teaching him how to check out at the grocery store. I also have taught him how to go into a bank by himself and make a deposit, how to get gas, and how to refill a prescription. My kids have also known how to order off a menu since they were old enough to read.

While these seem like small life skills, they can become crippling chores to a youth who doesn’t know how to do them and who doesn’t feel confident in doing them. Walking through a process of a small task can seem obvious to those of us who have done it a million times, but to a teen, it can seem intimidating at best.

6. Let your teen make non-life altering mistakes … and suffer the consequences.

Your teen is going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Most of them hopefully will not be life altering. (Those are the types of mistakes you should help prevent.)

The tricky thing for parents is letting your son or daughter suffer the consequences of their mistakes and not rescuing them. Maybe the mistake is a bad grade on his report card, or a traffic ticket. Maybe it is oversleeping and getting an unexcused tardy. Whatever the mistake, we humans tend to learn the hard way. When we rescue our kids all the time, we prevent them from learning and teach them to always ask someone else to help them out of a jam.

There is nothing wrong in asking for help. But it does our kids a disservice when we protect them from natural consequences, such as paying a ticket, taking a tardy, or not getting the grade they want in a class.

7. Know your teen’s friends and their friends’ parents.

This may not be your teen’s favorite piece of advice. However, there might not be anything much more important on this list. Especially when starting high school and being introduced to a  new group of peers, it is extremely important to get to know your teen’s friends and their parents. You want to know who your teen is hanging out with and where. You also want to trade numbers (at minimum) with their friends’ parents so you can text or call to follow up on your teen’s plans to sleepover or go to a party.

I asked my older son this year if he minded if I was in the room when his friends are over. His response was, “No, just don’t make it awkward.” That seemed challenging, so I asked what that meant. “You know, at least talk to them and stuff.” I agreed and asked my son to tell me when things got awkward. He has. My favorite was when he said, “Mom! Don’t get all school counselory on my friends!” Point taken, son.

This has also led me to have great conversations with his friends and get to know them as best as I can. I can usually discern who the teens are that I hope my son hangs out with and who I hope he avoids. This also leads me to have more conversations with my son about his friends, and that is a win-win for me.

8. Communicate with teachers, but teach your child to communicate with them, as well.

This year, I put the ball in my son’s court when it came to school. So, I told all his teachers that I expected my son to take responsibility for his work. This is helpful for a couple of reasons. Teachers LOVE for your teen to take responsibility for his or her own work. They also LOVE when I email them and ask if my son talked to them about his missing assignment. I usually get a, “nope.”

That’s when I follow up with my son and ask if he has talked to his teacher. If not, I help him remember by giving consequences for not following through. We have a No Zeros Policy at our house. As long as my kids are doing the work, I am pretty easy going. When they have a zero, I can get pretty intense. I explain that bosses don’t forgive missing work, so I want to help them for when they are older.

9. Remind them that having privileges also means having responsibility.

This drives my younger son crazy because he thinks he deserves all of the privileges my older son gets. In fact, my 12 year old thinks I should let him drive around the block since my older son has a learner’s permit. Not happening.

What I remind my younger son is that with great privilege comes great responsibility. The more you get, them more you give. One example might be that your 16 year old gets to drive, and gets to take his sibling to practice. Or maybe your older child has more or more difficult chores than your younger child, but also gets a bigger allowance. Whatever it looks like, let their responsibilities grow as their privileges grow.

When my older son had trouble waking up when his alarm was going off in the morning, I gently reminded him about all the privileges he gets and about how maybe those privileges should go away if he can't get himself out of bed in the morning. It was amazing to see how he suddenly heard his alarm clock in the mornings after that reminder.

10. Show them you love them.

This IS the most important thing on the list. Loving your teen might look like public hugs, favorite meals, and verbal affirmations. Or it might look like not letting them have a zero or not letting them go to a friend’s house when you have a bad feeling about it.

Even though it looks different every day, be sure to tell your children how much you love them and explain to them that is why you are doing what you are doing. It isn’t to be a mean mom or dad, and it isn’t to ruin his life. It is to make sure he lives to see another day and grows to be the amazing man I know he can be.

Loving your child is the most natural you can do as a parent, but sometimes is the he hardest thing to convey to your child. There are days when it will be a breeze and days when loving them is all you can do because you don’t like them very much. That’s OK! Just don’t ever stop loving them and telling them that you do. It is a game changer.