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4 Ways to Better Parent Your Teen

In notice a lot these days that there’s a big stress on getting teens to do things the adults wants them to do, whether that’s chores, the way they study or learn, how they find motivation for their future, or learning adult life tasks like driving.

The more an adult willfully tries to get a teen to do what they want them to do (think pressure, coercion, forcing, guilt-tripping, manipulating), the less frequently it works.

Don’t get me wrong, you may get compliance that way, but in the long run, for helping develop their prefrontal cortex and ability to solve problems, plan, and make good choices, this strategy just isn’t very effective.

A lot of teens collapse under this type of pressure or rebel; it doesn’t go the way the adult intends it to go.  In this article, I’m mainly talking to parents or caregivers of teens, but I think it applies to any caring adult in relationship with a teen whether they’re a teacher, mentor, therapist, etc.  What I propose, and what I’d like to invite parents to test out is the concept of willing parenting.

What does willing parenting entail, you might ask?  To me, it means four things.  Read below to explore them and see how you can apply them to your relationship with your teen.

1. Be Willing to Learn from Your Teen

Do you remember being a teenager?  Do you remember the frustration of the adults around you not listening to you or taking your opinion into account?  Then somehow you grew up and started doing the same thing to your teen.  It’s not your fault.  Maybe it comes with aging.  I do it too.  I think I know better.  I think I know best.  And while yes, age does give me some wisdom, what it doesn’t give me is personal knowledge of what may work best for a particular teen.

Our children are not us.

So while they may look like you, act like you, or make some of the same mistakes as you, keep in mind they are separate people.  They are their own person.  They are the ones who are developing their own inner wisdom, and when you come along and tell them what’s best for them, it robs them of the opportunity to figure out what’s best for themself, as painful as it may be to watch.

So follow your teen’s lead.

Be curious.

Allow them to be the director of their own life.

I’m not saying throw all structure and boundaries to the wind, but I am saying, when they want to change their appearance or change their elective, let them.  Let them be the star of their own show.  Give them permission to try new things, fail, make mistakes, learn and grow and leave your judgment at the door.

2. Be Willing to Listen to Your Teen

This corresponds closely with number one above.

Listening to your teen means you need to zip it.

It means instead of thinking about what you want to say or how you’re going to slip in your advice, you be present with them.  It requires you to do things like reflect back what they’re saying or feeling (i.e. “Wow!  That sounds really tough!”) and explore with them their own ideas (i.e. “Hmmm, so you’re thinking about moving in with your friend, what do you think that will be like?”).

It requires you to release your judgments and as much as possible view your teen from the perspective of wonder.

Be in awe of this human who is so themselves.

Be in awe of the energy, vitality, passion, and desire they have to live as the fullest, most authentic version of themselves.

Be in awe of yourself for raising such a cool human.

Parenting teens, means playing the long game.  Be a safe person for them to talk to and check your facial expressions!

If you’re responding with the right words and the right tone, but you have a sneer on your face, they’ll see right through you.

Listen to them in the small things like what drama is going on in their friend group today, so they know you’ll listen to them in the big things like when they have their heart broken or think about their future.

3. Be Willing to Sit with Your Teen

If you’ve done numbers one and two, then hopefully this one will feel natural.

Sitting with your teen means being with them where they are.

Are they over the moon about turning in late assignments and passing a class this semester?  Celebrate with them and congratulate them on working hard and proving to themselves they could do it.

Are they struggling because their best friend has a significant other now and has less time to spend with them?  Name the emotion of loneliness or jealous and share a time you experienced those too.

Are they having to deal with the natural consequences of doing the right thing or a choice they made?  Acknowledge how much it stinks sometimes to make good choices or accept the consequences of our actions.

Be with them in the joy and be with them in the pain.

Find some small thing you can do to help them know you’re there.  It could be making a cup of tea or their favorite snack.  It could be playing a game together or watching a show.  Spend some time sitting with them and giving them permission to sit with themself.  This is a gift that will keep on giving throughout their life.

4.  Be Willing to Change as the Parent

This one’s hard.  Dan Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell M.Ed. wrote a book called, Parenting from the Inside Out.  The book is about how our early life experiences impact us and shape the way we parent.  I believe it’s a must read, because so often parents unconsciously act out their own histories in the present day.

It’s not easy to change.  I know this.

It takes a lot, especially in a world where parents work more, devices distract us from connection, and we’re more stressed than ever: financially, health-wise, and living through a global pandemic for years.

You are the adult, and it is your responsibility to continue to do better for your child each and every week.

Teenagers don’t outgrow needing a parent.  They just need parenting to look a little differently.  The more you are willing to work on yourself, the more you are modeling healthy change and growth for your teen.

Parenting is a long game activity, especially in the teen years, and if you want your teen when they’re thirty years old to still have a relationship with you and be connected to you, then what you do today does matter.

And the way that you connect with them today and the way you see who they are and show up for and with them matters.

Rather than spending your energy to shape them into who you want them to be (the clay model of parenting), rather than being willful, being willing to accept who they are and discover who they are with them (the archeological model of parenting) is a big deal.

Is there a place you could create a little more ease in your relationship with your teen?

Are there tender topics where you’re holding on with both fists clenched and instead you could release your grip and turn your palms face up and be a little more willing?

From my experience, willful parenting just isn’t effective these days.  It chokes a teen’s spirit and creates resentment in relationships.  I don’t want that for you and your teen.

So what could you do to be a little more willing to be with your teen, where they’re at today?

Are you struggling in your relationship with your teen?  Do you need some support to navigate this season of life together?

Sometimes I help unhappy, withdrawn teens find joy and confidence from within by supporting their parents first.  If you’re needing a safe space to talk about your parenting journey, reach out today.

Call me for a FREE 15-minute consultation at 737-808-4888 or send me a message using the secure contact form.  Working on yourself is the first step to having a positive, enduring relationship with your teen today and in the future.


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