In our current parenting pop culture, it has become a common stereotype to “dread” the pre-teen and teenage years. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard someone say to a parent whose toddler is confidently walking UP the slide or is refusing to comply with a request, “Well, just wait until she’s a TEENAGER!”
It’s as if our society has decided that adolescence is when your sweet, cherub-cheeked child will transform into some sort of teenaged monster, making your life an absolute misery.
Take it from me, currently in the trenches of parenting two teenagers: the truth is that the pre-teen and teenage years are NOTHING to fear. In fact, they are a time to savour – to enjoy, even!
Adolescence is a wild ride for our kids. It’s an exciting, confusing, overwhelming and beautiful time, and as parents, we must count ourselves lucky to be invited along for the journey. When we better understand what our children need during this time of great change and big adventures, we’re able to support them whilst remaining close and connected.
Our Kids REALLY Need Us During this Time
The teenage years can be perceived as the time when we, “mama and papa birds”, need to boot our little fledglings out of the nest. But wait! Before we do any booting of ANY kind, we must remember that our teens still need us during these crucial moments of development. When they “learn to fly” with only their peers as their guides, they won’t have the security of knowing that they can return to their nest.
Now that I’ve sufficiently dragged out that extended metaphor for all that it is worth, the nuts and bolts of it is that our children WANT to foster a relationship with us. That instinct that was kindling inside of them as tiny infants still exists in that man-sized body standing in front of you. They yearn for connection, and if they don’t feel that reciprocity coming from the home front, they will be forced to seek it out in their peers – and we know that kids cannot raise kids.
We must reach out to our teens and keep reaching out. That extended hand must always be there.
Marching to Their Own Beat
The teen years are when our kids start to explore exactly who they are.
This may mean that your teen wants to do their own thing and not what YOU want them to do. It can be challenging – but necessary – to explore why we may have a strong reaction to our child quitting the baseball team, for example, or no longer wanting to go on long family hikes, etc. We must dig into why these decisions bother us. Is it because we really believe that the baseball team will change our child’s life, or is it because our child is making choices that rebut how we were raised, or our hobbies? Growing up teens means that we also have to do a heck of a lot of growing ourselves.
Adolescence is a time of discovery and can create adventures and experiences that we boring adults wouldn’t ordinarily expose ourselves to. Take an interest in your child’s hobbies. Your engagement shows your teen that you’re still showing up for them – that you want to make the time and the space to get to know them and their passions. Your active presence in these
conversations helps your child to further flesh out their ideas and work through any challenges. It can mean stepping outside of our comfort zones, but this is where the real growth happens.
Show Up for “Work” Even if You Aren’t Put to Work
Our teens and pre-teens are not very likely to schedule time in their iCal for meaningful chats with their parents. We have to make ourselves available, so that when the spontaneous conversations or “asks” come forward – we are there.
It is so important for our pre-teens and teens that we are available to them, even if the timing isn’t always right. I make a point of hanging in my kitchen most evenings, as that’s where my boys, now 14 and 17, can often be found. There are nights where we just banter or don’t say much at all, and then there are other evenings where we sit at the island and chat – about life, love, school – because the moment just happened to be right.
Find Ways to Schedule Time Together
While I joked about how our teens are not very likely to schedule in “Deep Conversation with Mum” in their phones, scheduling time together is a necessity.
You don’t need to have big splashy plans, but can choose something as simple as a one-on-one outing – a dinner or a walk together. Despite their groans, our preteens and teens look forward to these special moments together. Another great opportunity for spontaneous connection is while driving. I find that some of my best conversations with my boys happen when I’m driving; there’s something about being in the car and not having to have continuous eye contact that sets the stage for some truly great chats.
Don’t Let the Mood Get You Down
Adolescence is an emotional time. The brain is changing rapidly during these years, while also being at the mercy of surging hormones, the demands of a peer group, school, extra-curriculars, work, and more! Add in a wacky sleep schedule and being faced with universe-altering questions such as, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” – and it’s enough to set anyone on edge.
So, this is a gentle reminder to give your pre-teen or teen a bit of leeway. You are their safe space, and so you are lucky enough to be where all these big feelings get to land. Do you know the saying, “It’s not personal, it’s business”? Well, we should amend that one for the teen years: “It’s not personal, it’s adolescence.”
Stay Focused on Family and Routine
As humans, we love routine. We crave it. And so, it’s important that we keep traditions going in our family units. Maybe it’s Sunday dinner together, without phones, TVs, or interruptions. Perhaps it’s a family game night, or getting together with extended family, or how you celebrate birthdays and big occasions. When we hold these routines and traditions as essential, it solidifies the significance of the family as the center of it all. This helps to anchor our teen; it promotes feelings of connection and belonging. Our adolescents may look and sound just like adults, but we cannot forget that they are still children, and they crave that family time just as much as they did when they were small.
This is the most important advice that I could offer any parent who is parenting, or will be parenting, a pre-teen or teen: don’t retire too soon.
Don’t give into the hype that our children need to “figure it out” or get kicked out of the nest to become independent, well-rounded people. We are our child’s foundation, and for them to feel safe enough to take a leap, they need to know that we will be there to catch them should they fall. They might roll their eyes at family game night or give you monosyllabic answers when you pick them up from school, but inside of that chest is the same heart that beat for you when they were three, and eight, and 11 years old.
Make time for your teen. Take an interest, ask questions, be around. Offer to drive, or to get out and go for a walk or a bite to eat. Don’t assume that your pre-teen or teen would rather hang out with friends; chances are, they’d love a bit of your time and to share what’s going on in their world. You’ll soon see that the teen years aren’t that scary after all. Rather, they are an invitation to get to know who this remarkable human is growing up to be – and to learn a little bit about ourselves along the way.
Tune into Episode 103 of the PakMag Parents Podcast to hear more from Dr Vanessa Lapointe on how you can thrive as a family during the tween and teen years.