When I had three kids in three years, I didn’t think much about them being teenagers. I knew it was going to happen, but I felt like I had so much time to get ready for it.
The truth is, nothing could have prepared me for having even one teenager — much less three at the same time.
Just because I was a teenager once doesn’t mean I’m an expert at raising teens. Sure, it helps to reflect on our own experiences, but our kids are individuals with different needs and feelings. They aren’t going to handle things the way we did, and it took me a few years into my parenting-teens journey to realize that.
My children are 18, 16, and 15 now. I never know what I’m going to walk into each day, but I will say I’ve learned a few things these past few years about raising teens that have made my lives — and theirs — a bit easier.
Give them space.
They are going to want it and need it. This is normal, and it will probably feel like they went from wanting to hang out with you to despising you. All of my kids have gone through this, and the more I tried to get them out of their room, the less they wanted to spend time with me.
When I let them be and have their alone time without hounding them, they started coming around and wanting to do a few family things again.
I didn’t force them to. Instead, I went ahead and did fun things without them — like going to our favorite fast food joint, or on a hike. If they wanted their burger and fries, or to watch the dog out on the trails, they had to come along.
If there was a family gathering I wanted them to come to, I gave them plenty of notice and told them they were expected to be there and they could have the rest of the weekend to spend with friends or alone in their room.
Once they knew I recognized their need for privacy, they didn’t seem to need quite as much.
Don’t comment on what they wear.
My kids like going out in their pajamas and slippers. They don’t wear coats, or care if their socks match. They like their piercings. If their hoodie is dirty, who cares? Certainly not them.
I want my kids to be comfortable in their own skin and this is what makes them feel that way. I used to ask them to change, or tell them they couldn’t go somewhere in their pajamas. They hated it, we’d fight, and they wouldn’t want to go. The day would be ruined.
I realized my kids are autonomous and the way they look is insignificant. How they treat others is where my focus is — not whether their outfit is something I would choose for them.
Stop caring what other people think.
There are always going to be people (parents and non-parents) who have something to say about you, your kids, and your parenting. Let them talk. The reasons for the comments are all about them, and not about you.
You have to do what’s best for your family. I know people talked about my son when he decided not to go to college. I know people make comments because my daughter likes to dye her hair different colors and she’s really quiet.
Not all kids are excellent students with a drive to further their education. Not all kids are outgoing. They aren’t cookie cutters. They are individuals.
Remember their life is theirs, not yours.
We’ve all seen parents who want their kids to excel in sports, go to school where they did, or follow in their career footsteps. My children couldn’t be more different than me and their father.
When my oldest quit all sports, we tried to force him to play. There we tried to force him to help the coaches instead. It all backfired.
It wasn’t until we accepted his choices that he really flourished. He loves going to the gym every day, he’s into healthy eating, and is the hardest worker I know. He saves and invests his money, and at 18, he has more money than a lot of adults I know.
This has a lot to do with his drive and determination. And just because your child isn’t passionate about one area of life doesn’t mean they won’t find something that lights their fire. But you have to let them find it.
If they tell you that you’ve upset them, believe them.
This isn’t the time to argue with them, or tell them they shouldn’t be hurt. All that does is devalue them and make them feel like their feelings aren’t valid. Guess what comes next? Silence. They won’t come to you with the good or the bad, because they won’t think it will matter. Maybe something you did or said wouldn’t upset you, but that’s no reason to tell them they shouldn’t be upset by it. Everyone wants to feel heard. Teens are no different.
If they are mad/sad/happy, listen to them.
High school comes with a mixed bag of drama (heavy on the drama), confusion, and happy feelings. If your child comes to you and is upset that someone said they didn’t like their outfit, or their crush doesn’t like them back, don’t dismiss their feelings. Saying things like, “It could be worse,” or “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” makes them feel like you don’t care and their big feelings shouldn’t be big. It is a big deal — their social life is a huge part of their world. Treat it as such, regardless of how silly or trivial it seems to you.
Their social life will be more important than you — don’t take it personally.
This is the way it is. I was like this, my siblings were like this, and all of my kids are like this. There can be a balance between staying home and friend time, though. I know it’s tough when you kids don’t ever want to be at home and are always trying to escape.
I took this so personally with my oldest. I now know it’s not about me as much as it is about them finding their people.
Remember when you were a teenager.
If you are struggling with something, please go back and remember when you were a teenager and how things felt to you. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have consequences for making bad decisions. They should be held accountable for their actions. However, remember what a hard time this is by thinking back to your teen years. That will put things into perspective for you.
Raising teens is lonely — be prepared for that.
This is inevitable. Your kids don’t need you as much as they once did and that can leave you wondering what your purpose is.
They no longer get super excited for holidays or pizza night. They are in their room a lot, and their social life comes first.
The good news is, they do come back around a bit when they are older.
In the meantime — and I can’t express this enough — take this time to invest in yourself and spend that time doing something you love. It will help tremendously.
Remember, raising teens is a hard job, so be sure to give yourself some grace — and your kids, too. You aren’t going to be perfect, but you are going to learn a lot.
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