Tips from the Trenches: Parents Weigh In on Raising Teens

We recently solicited parents for their input on raising teenagers and received a wide variety of comments, which are printed below. These comments are all from moms. But fathers, too, have important things to say about raising their teens. Dads, let us know how you’re weathering your children’s teen years.

• Having a teenager who is involved in a sport is not only great for the teen, but for the parents also. As teenagers have less to talk about with Mom and Dad, a sport or other activity is something you can both be interested in and “communicate” about.

• The car (while the parent is driving) is the best place to have a conversation, especially about something the teen might not want to talk about, because they can’t get mad and walk away. You can talk things out.

• It is very important to be consistent and follow through with consequences that you impose.

– Diane, mother of three, ages 16 to 22

• Always listen first. On touchy subjects, get your teen’s input before you give yours. For example, when there’s an incident in town involving kids and drugs, I always ask, “So what’s the scoop on so and so?” very conversationally, very nonjudgmentally. It’s amazing what you learn.

• Eat together. Sit down at a table and eat together as often as possible. Make it clear that at a certain time every evening, you’ll be at the table and whoever is home (and their guests) is expected to be there too.

• Forget about regular sleep – if they’re awake and ready to talk at 11:30 p.m., be there.

• After they get a driver’s license, make them take a cell phone and call you when they get where they’re going and call you when they leave to come home. (Having had kids both before and after the proliferation of cell phones, I can tell you, the peace of mind is well worth the price of the phone.)

• Be very clear on your core values -- what matters and what doesn’t; then choose your battles.

– Anonymous

• Make sure you preserve your marriage – you’ll need it again later. Establish teen-free zones in your relationship where no talking about teens is allowed.

• Make sure you have friends that also have teens. It’s like connecting with the other parents at the playground – it serves the same purpose, proving that you’re not alone.

• Don’t -- ever -- sweat the small stuff.

• Take your kids’ moods seriously. They may not be able to express something that’s really bothering them.

• Be aware that the younger teen years are more difficult emotionally. It actually gets better as they get to be 16 and 17. I wish I’d known just how much fun it would be once you get through the teen years – then the hard parts would have been easier to take.

– Elizabeth, mother of three, ages 19 to 30

• Discussions about the consequences of stupid choices, rather than random punishments, seems effective at my house.

• It also helps to know when to talk and when to leave them alone. Take cues from them.

• Never say anything that could ever be interpreted as negative about any of their friends. Point out something that you admire in that child.

• Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents. We started an informal brunch for parents of kids that hang around together and we meet once a month. It’s a good way to ensure that the kids are all operating under the same set of rules and expectations.

• When your kids do open up about drinking, drugs and other adolescent diversions, try not to freak out or show any signs of shock at what they tell you. Perhaps you will hear “I’m really glad that you didn’t spaz out when I told you that, Mom.” And perhaps they will continue to talk.

• Remember that being an adolescent is stressful, but temporary. It is nature’s way of making you glad when your kids move out.

• So far what, I think, has saved me – or at least worked – is to operate under assumed trust: “You are a smart kid and I believe that you will use your head to make smart decisions.” And, “with great freedom, comes great responsibility. Use it wisely.”

– Carol, mother of three, ages 10 to 18

• What saw me through was a very strong belief in the power of prayer. I truly raised those kids on my knees. ... I asked for protection for them, the wisdom to know how to answer them, the insight into what was making them do the things they did and a spirit of joy to laugh at myself and to love them with all my heart.

• I also asked God to give me the ability to see what they were doing through His eyes and to have the courage to deal with each situation with love, discipline and strength of spirit. I am very proud to say that all four of my children are fine adults who love God, family and country.

• I think the best advice I could give parents of ’tweens is one, pray, and two, remember that these children are very special gifts from God. The way that they are treated by their parents will affect everything they do as adults. And most of all, remind them over and over again how much you love them. And then laugh with them.

– Vicky, mother of four

For more about parenting teens, go to  Why Teens Really Aren’t That Bad