My daughter is halfway through her thirteenth year–six months into teenhood, and no, our house didn’t burn down, our relationship didn’t implode, and cops haven’t come knocking on our door. In fact, I’m rather enjoying this stage of parenting. The late night giggles, the laid-back window shopping, stopping to nibble on a soft pretzel as we share a soda and she opens her heart to me.
When she was young, I heard so many horror stories of how terrible the teen years can be. But I’m here to tell you they don’t have to be. In fact, the teen years can be one of the most beautiful times in parenting, when you watch first hand as your child blossoms into the young woman or man God created them to be.
And yet, I have seen strained relationships. I’ve seen it go one of two ways: either teens grow closer to their parents during this time, internalizing the values and beliefs taught years before, or they grow embittered and further apart. But here are some things I’ve noticed:
In my experience, when teens turn rebellious, the parents were the first to leave. Not physically, but emotionally. Among my daughter’s friends, this started happening in sixth grade, once children were legally allowed to stay home alone. Suddenly many of her friends were spending long afternoons by themselves waiting for their parents to get off work. They were allowed to stay up all hours of the night, watching television long after their parents went to bed. Parents no longer tucked them in with a hug and an I love you. Butterfly kisses were a thing of the past. Basically, they were treated as little adults, with increasingly less parental interaction.
At times, it was tempting for my husband and I to do the same. I’ve stayed home for fifteen, almost sixteen years now. That hasn’t exactly helped our budget, and I remember thinking about all the jobs I could get once our daughter hit twelve. Suddenly it didn’t matter if I worked until five, because she could be home alone–legally.
But was she ready emotionally? At age twelve, the pleasure centers in the human brain are heightened, yet the rational, decision-making centers of the brain are undeveloped. Which is why teens act so crazy. When they shriek and jump up and down because they got the last cookie…yep, totally normal. Shrieking and squealing comes with the territory, and I hear it stops around 25, when adult reasoning is fully developed.
But let me ask you this…with heightened pleasure centers and decreased reasoning, how long can we expect our teens to make the right choice? They are ill-equipped. We are their protectors, their prohibitors, so to speak.
Couple this with the decreased parental interaction and what do you have? A child that gets in trouble, which means, the relationship is soon dominated by rules and correction. Now, correction is not bad. In fact, it is necessary, but if the only time you are interacting with your child is when you are disciplining them, expect rebellion.
An old friend used to say, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.”
A few moments of one-on-one time, connecting on a heart level with your teen, is one of the most effective rebellion sappers around.
Want to connect with your teen, and show them in a tangible way how much you love them? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Go on a leisurely walk, just the two of you.
2. Send them occasional, “I love you and I’m proud of you” emails.
3. Do each other’s nails. This is one of my favorite! I like to take our daughter shopping to pick out a new nail polish, then we come home and I do her nails and toenails.
4. Go out for a soda or a hot cocoa.
5. Tuck them in. Teens are never too old to go to bed with an I love you. When our daughter was young, I determined that no matter what, she would go to bed each night with a hug and an “I love you,” would wake up each morning with a hug and an “I love you” and would leave for school the same way. Especially if tensions are high. She needs to know that our love is constant, unwavering, even if she messes up.