The days of parenting young children are certainly exhausting and not without challenges – tantrums, picky eating, sibling squabbles and whining, to name a few. But when those small children turn into teenagers, some parents say they long for the days when a hug and a kiss could fix an owie. Raising teenagers today is very different than it was just a generation ago. Schools are often larger. Kids are growing up faster, and an exponential increase in technology has meant that parents have to learn how to navigate new social situations and challenges with their kids. These Grimes parents are right there in it, and they share some advice for raising teens today in this ever-changing world.
The wonder years
Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood. The period of adolescence is most closely associated with the teenage years, though its physical, psychological and cultural expressions may begin earlier and end later.
It’s during these years that parenting can become a particular challenge. Parents are left wondering how much to be involved in the day to day life of their teens, and how much freedom to give them to make choices. It can be a tough road to navigate, but it doesn’t have to be.
Parents can allow their teens to make choices, and they also need to allow them to fail, because in the home, it’s safe. There parents can help them learn from their mistakes.
“It won’t do you any good to do things for them because then they won’t learn those skills, and the more they do things on their own, the more confident they become,” says high school guidance counselor Linda Baker. “I think it can be intimidating, but it helps.”
Baker says one thing that parents of teens need to be aware of is the pressure that kids put on themselves. They are busy with school and jobs and sports and activities and friends, and often they can become stressed trying to manage it all and be their best all the time.
Parents need to stay connected to their kids to make sure they’re not suffering from burnout and to help their kids gain the skills necessary to be successful in college and beyond. No matter what teens are dealing with and what they’re feeling, it’s real to them, and parents need to be sure they are taking their issues and problems seriously, too.
“Learning how to be confident in yourself and figuring out who we are, that’s always a work in progress, but kids start that in high school so those are learning and teachable moments,” Baker says. “But their brain isn’t fully developed yet either. They’re still kids and still need guidance from their parents.”
Michele Belzer, mom to four kids — Kaylyn, 20, Jacob, 17, Garrett, 15, Dillon, 13 — says it varies from child to child how they determine when they are ready for certain things. For her oldest, they had to figure out how to change their expectations once she started college, since she was still living at home.
“It was easy to have things be the same because she was at home, and what I tell her is, ‘You are in charge of your own schedule as long as you’re respectful of us and being in our home. You don’t need permission to go places like you did when you were still in high school.’ “
She says her kids have also started getting summer jobs as teenagers, and she thinks doing so fosters a sense of independence and responsibility.
Julie Holiday, mom to three teens — Adam, 19, Joshua, 15, and Megan, 13 — agrees that each child needs to be parented differently. Her oldest has always been very independent, so he needed a cell phone earlier than the other kids.
“The nice thing, though, is that, in Grimes, we know his friends and his friends’ parents, so everyone helps keep an eye on everyone else’s kids,” she says. “It makes it a very comfortable transition to give them more freedom.”
When it comes to talking to kids about drugs, drinking, sex and other touchy topics, it’s best if the talks start sooner rather than later. Holiday says she has seen the consequences that other kids have faced due to partaking of drugs or alcohol, and it has opened the door for her to talk to her kids about the subject.
“I want them to know what can happen,” she says. “You can go to a party, and it can become an inappropriate party, and then you can get in trouble just for being there. We talk about how they can deal with it if they’re in a situation. We’ve even said we might get angry but they can call us anytime. We want them to be safe and make the right choices.”
Belzer says her oldest daughter has already seen friends or classmates become moms, so that becomes a topic of conversation. Sometimes the best time to chat is in the car one-on-one where the child is a captive audience, but the parent and child don’t have to look at the other face-to-face, which can spark good conversation, Belzer says.
Technology today is another tricky thing to navigate during already hard teen years.
Holiday has been lucky that her teens haven’t been too interested in being involved in social media or other technology, she says. Belzer says she limits the technology she allows her teens to be involved in. Her kids sometimes feel like they are the last to have this or that, she says, but she thinks the devices have the potential to just be a distraction. They also monitor their interactions.
“We don’t creep on them, but we do keep track,” she says. “They know their dad is there, and they know what they post is public. We don’t want to be so on top of them that they don’t feel like they can breathe, but it’s a big disservice not to teach them how they have to be accountable for what they say or post. Just be responsible for what you say and do.”
It’s important for parents to set the expectation that they will be checking up on their child’s texts and other communications, especially online. Sometimes kids want to make the right choices, and giving them an out — “Oh, my mom and dad check my phone, so I can’t do that,” — can help them stay out of trouble.
Parents can help their teens navigate the tech world by keeping an open dialogue and determining what level of involvement they want or need to have in their child’s online activities. Above all, no parent can stress enough that once something is online, it never really goes away. If need be, Baker says, take the electronics away.
Words of wisdom
Belzer says it is important to stay close to as many people as your child is close to — the more involved, the better.
“It’s nice that we have other parent friends, and we are able to talk through issues and talk about things that are going on with their kids,” she says.
It can also help to have a child’s friends at to the house, because sometimes the best information can be had when they are all hanging around and talking. Stay close to a child’s friends, and parents will stay close to their child.
Despite their best intentions, the parents say that teens will make mistakes. The trick is to make them responsible for their choices and suffer the consequences just like their parents did. Belzer says the biggest thing for her children is accountability. She wants to raise them to make their own choices, but to realize that each choice has consequences, and they will have to deal with those consequences.
Through it all though, parenting teens doesn’t have to be dreadful, and parents don’t have to worry if they don’t get it right the first time that all is lost.
“We’re always learning right along with them,” Belzer says. “We aren’t perfect, and we can change things and figure them out together. We have to meet in the middle.”