My experience with teenagers has been very concentrated. I had three kids within three years, and they are going through each stage of life back to back. After many mistakes, I had to learn fast how to go with it and do the best to nurture my teens.
I learned very quickly when my oldest was about 12 that I could try as hard as I could to get him to change back into his sweet, talkative, innocent self, but it would only push him away.
My daughter turned 12 before I could catch my breath with my son–I felt like everything I did was wrong and made him angrier.
The thing is, he was changing and growing, and I was trying to stop it. I didn’t realize it at the time but my begging him to keep playing basketball, my constant questions about why he was always in his room, and my making comments about his hoodie-infested wardrobe only put a wedge between us.
Eventually, I learned. Here are some things I’ve done that have helped give my teens space to grow and discover who they want to be.
I had to realize this is their life
My kids aren’t excited about going to college. My oldest didn’t go after he graduated high school last year, and I’m not sure my daughter will go. They don’t like school, and what they want to be when they grow up doesn’t require a college degree.
I went to college–it was just what you did. But their life is not my life, and I refuse to force them to be who I think they should be.
I don’t hold grudges
This is a tough one, I know. However, if they break my trust, I’ve had to realize they are humans and they will learn the lesson a lot faster if I’m not constantly reminding them of their mistakes. I’ve done that in the past, and all it does is take away their ability to self-reflect, to feel empathy or remorse on their own. And that’s what really matters in the long run.
I also believe we have to give them second chances and opportunities to earn their trust back and make different decisions.
I let them spend time in their rooms
Teenagers live in their rooms. I get asked all the time if my kids spend a lot of time in their rooms. Yes, they do. It’s where they want to be and instead of trying to get them to come out and spend time with me, I let them be.
I promise you, it feels so strange at first to have your teenager disappear, but the more space you give them, the more they will be inclined to come out of those rooms.
If they want to quit a club or sport, I let them
I’m not saying I don’t encourage them to stick with it or ask them to give it one more season. It’s not like we don’t talk about it, or I don’t remind them how good they are at a particular sport or club. However, they grow out of things and want to spend their time doing other things as they get older.
I’ve made the mistake of making them do something or stick with something, and all it did was have a negative effect on them, the coach, and the rest of the team.
If they regret it and miss it, they will discover that on their own.
I let them dress how they want
They like their sweatshirt and sweatpants. They don’t care about going out in public in pajama pants and slippers. I stopped making comments about it.
Trying to get a teenager to change their clothes to make me happier because I was worried about what other people might think was a waste of my time.
I let them get piercings or color their hair
Self-expression is important. It’s their body, not mine. If they want pink hair and to shave one side of their head, they have my blessing.
When I was younger, I wanted my hair cut short circa Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful. My parents wouldn’t let me and told me, “Girls were supposed to have long hair.”
It’s 2022, and my kids get to be whoever they want to be.
I let them make mistakes
There are times as a parent when you have to get in the middle of a mess for the sake of your teens. Then there are times you can warn them about something — like not waiting until the last minute to start a project — let them feel the wrath for themselves when they don’t listen.
Things like friendships can also be challenging too. You can remind your child that they were treated poorly by someone, but you can’t dictate who their friends are. They have to make those choices on their own.
Letting your teens grow up and make their own decisions can feel like dancing on the edge of a cliff. You are going to mess up and make mistakes. It will feel like you aren’t doing enough or you are doing too much.
The only thing you can do is your best. Remember that.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.