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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Two dozen tips I wish I had heard when my kids were teens

[image of teen from Internet]
I have always loved my kids, but we had some rough-going when they were teens. At times, I fantasized about having an ex-husband I could send them to. Once I called every older parent I knew to ask for advice. My dad’s best friend, who had five grown children, said, “Every kid gets into some kind of trouble, but in different ways.” There was some cold comfort there.

Last night I was at a party and sat with two friends, each of whom is the father of a 15-year-old. One is the dad of a girl; the other is the dad of a boy. The pain on their faces was palpable when they talked about their children.

I’ve buried the parent-of-teen pain for so long that I had to reach back pretty far to recall it. But I found it. "I remember how it hurt," I said to my friends, "to feel that they don't love you."

"And to feel that they don't respect you," one of the fathers added.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was suffering (stuff I picked up from wise people - ideas that helped me keep my sanity and some family harmony).

Two dozen tips for parents of teens, in no particular order:

1. What teens want most is to feel that they are cherished (true! based on a survey of teens).

2. The foundation of love you built when they were small will hold.

3. When kids seem to deserve a hug the least, they need it the most.

4. Treat kids the way you want them to treat you.

5. Saying “I hate you” or “F*** you” is unacceptable – on either side.

6. Saying “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry” is essential – on each side.

7. Keep rules – and consequences – few but consistent. Don’t budge. You can handle the fallout.

8. Choose your battles. Blue hair probably isn’t worth fighting about.

9. A certain amount of rebellion seems to be necessary for development – at age two and in the teens.

10. The minute you enter into an argument, you’ve lost.

11. The minute you raise your voice, you’ve lost.

12. Keep God in the equation – a bigger target for teens to rebel against. God can handle the anger and might deflect some from you. (Thanks, dear God!)

13. If things get bad, go to family counseling with your teen. If you can’t afford it, there is always free counseling available – be resourceful.

14. If the first counselor doesn’t “click” with your teen, try another. Ask other parents for recommendations.

15. Have a family meeting and say “Let’s start over. Life’s not much fun anymore. How can we make this situation better?” Listen to your child's ideas.

16. Go out for lunch, or an outing, or even a vacation together. Camping is almost free. Family vacations build the family soul. Fun is family nutrition.

17. Enlist the help of an older adult – an uncle, aunt, or grandparent. Magical bonds appear when you skip a generation.

18. If another parent is involved within your own household or in another household, enlist that parent’s cooperation and agreement on parenting standards. Present a united front. If this is impossible, be frank about the situation with your teen. Your rules still hold.

19. My ultimate best tip: When your teens come home from school or from wherever they’ve been, go into their room with them and lie on their bed. Put your hands behind your head. Be quiet. They will talk.

20. The car is a great place for conversation. Captive audience on both sides. Turn off the radio (and nowadays, your own @#%*@ cell phone). Teen must do likewise.

21. Eat as many meals together as you can, with no TV (and nowadays, with no cell phones or computers) at the table. Teach by example: it is rude to respond to a phone (or nowadays, to send and receive text messages) during a meal, unless you're waiting for a life-or-death message from a doctor. This is true at home (and nowadays) also in a restaurant, please, I'm begging you, for the love of God!!

22. Share yourself. Open up. Be human. Maybe they’ll share also. (PS You really don’t want to know everything.)

23. Teach your children how life works by teaching the value of a dollar. You don't get anything for free (including cars, gas, insurance, and nowadays, cell phones). Work is good. If they can't get a job, perhaps they can work for you. Bartering is good.

24. Earning money is good, but school work is the first job of teens.

Now, a word about technology. My friends complained bitterly about the power of Facebook and cell phones in their teens’ lives. I didn’t have that problem because my children were teens long ago. However, we did have TV and the computer. These were my rules:

1. No TV.

2. You can have a computer when you can afford to buy one.

I don’t know what I’d do today, when “EVERY” kid has a cell phone. But I think in my own sweet way, I’d be the same hard ass I was then.

Oh, and PS, my teens turned into lovely adults. Some of them are procreating. And no, I won’t wish “payback” of rebellious teen years on them. But as I noted in #9 above, a certain amount of rebellion seems to be necessary for development.

Hang in there. Grandchildren are really fun and make it all worthwhile.

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