This is an article I rewrote for Family Share. It was originally published in Babble.
How many times have you heard this (or some variation)? “Have fun with your kids while they are young. One day they will be teenagers.” Is this a phase to be endured? Should we lock them up when at 14 and let them out when they are 21? Many parents dread and fear this stage of life–raising teenagers.
I’ve raised four adolescents (well, the fourth turns 17 this month so she’s on the downhill) and I have to say that this can be some of the most rewarding, exciting, fun times in your parenting. These kids have and appreciate a sophisticated sense of humor. You can share so many things (music, movies, gourmet food, literature and learning, travel, etc.). You get to know their friends and be a part of great activities. And you really get a glimpse of who they will be as adults. It’s awesome, really. Our job is to start letting go through those teenager years so they can become those responsible adults.
Kind of like birds, nests and learning how to fly. We’ve had ample opportunities since birth to feather the nest by teaching, training, modeling, reinforcing, praising and encouraging the values, behaviors and ideals we’d like our children to espouse. During the gradual letting-go years, it’s time for us to watch our baby birds grow up, exercise their wings and start to fly. Parents need to help their children gain emotional, physical, spiritual and social readiness to stand on their own and make mature decision we can be proud of when we aren’t there anymore.
One way we do this is through talking. When I say “talking,” I mean the parents should do less of the talking and more of the listening. Especially in the teen years. I admit…I’m a talker. I really need to work on letting my teenagers do more talking and me, the listening. We need to ask more of the open-ended “Wh” questions: Who…What…When…Where… We need to find when our teenagers are most emotionally available to open up to conversations. Some like talking in the car (turn off your cell phones, car radios and televisions!); some like to be taken out to lunch or shopping (girls especially, right?); some like to do something physical together (walking, hiking, biking, playing sports, etc); some open up late at night. When we get this right, it can be amazing.
I talked with my (soon-to-be) 17-year-old, Rachel, a few days ago and did it right by preparing her for that discussion. I told her ahead of time that at a certain time when she was free, I wanted to go over some goals in her life. Of course she rolled her eyes and resisted. But I persisted in a friendly and casual tone. We began by going over what was important to her and what God wanted her to do with her life (taking the “mom” part out of it). We discussed various standards for her life.
We were in the middle of discussing how to take care of our bodies and she rattled off all the correct answers. It was what she had been taught by her parents and other leaders. But what was important in that moment was to have Rachel find out what Rachel thought. So I asked, “Why do you believe what you’ve just said is true?” She quickly responded, “Because I only have one body and I don’t want to be stupid with it. If I ruin it with drug addiction or something else, it’s not like I can trade it in for another one. It’s all I’ve got.”
Wow. There’s no way in all the lessons on morality in the world that someone could distill truth better than what just came out of my daughter’s mouth. Best of all, she said it to herself. And believed it. She showed me a glimpse of that incredible, mature, independent-thinking adult she is becoming. I couldn’t have been more happy or more proud.
I think she’s ready to fly.