Parenting Teens and Tweens
If you are parenting teens and tweens and they are struggling with some kind of boundary (ex. talking to their siblings unkindly, excessive screen time, frequently procrastinating doing homework, etc.), it can be a real struggle. So what can you do to influence and guide them to get back on track?
There are three, important parenting principles that will help you accomplish this:
While implementing these principles keep in mind that each situation is different, each child is unique, and every issue may involve custom remedies. Seek answers and keep trying, and you will invariably find a way.
Loving Teens and Tweens
“Get ready to live! You think you have been living life until now, but when you become a parent a whole new part of you opens up that you didn’t even know existed.”
I still remember my mother’s counsel as I sat holding our first baby in the hospital room. It made a tremendous impact on me and over the years I’ve learned that parenting teens is really about shifting away from our self-centered nature and putting the needs of our children first.
As a parent, one of the most beautiful parts of raising a young child is forming a unique bond as they experience life—birthdays and holidays, family vacations, the wonders of learning, and more. It’s wonderful, but often doesn’t last as the tween and teen years approach.
Love—A Solid Foundation
As parents, we share a common goal to have a good relationship with our teens and tweens. As we navigate this time period, we all want to be good parents. We want to help our kids be good people and ideally maintain a good connection with them. And we would all love to know the formula for how to make that happen. While there are some very useful techniques and strategies that often help, there is a foundational principle that everything rests on and that hasn’t changed:
Everything builds on and flows from love. It is what kids want, and a loving relationship with kids is what parents want.
Think of parenting teens as building a house. You need a solid foundation and if you don’t have that you don’t have much. All of your finish work and designs can be beautiful, but if your foundation is off you will have trouble throughout the house, and truly the rest won’t matter much. It’s the same with your relationship with your teens and tweens. You need a solid foundation built on love and genuine care for your growing child.
While love is the foundation of parenting teens, the daily realities of life make it easy to get distracted with tasks, challenges, frustrations, mistakes, negative moods, etc. It is normal for all of us to get out of sync and out of touch. This is part of being human. Our kids have weaknesses and so do we. The beauty of this is that sharing our inadequacies and vulnerabilities with each other is often the very thing that draws us to our children and them to us.
The more we understand and have compassion for our teens and tweens, the more likely we are to have a meaningful, loving relationship with them. Part of the trick in doing this is to shift our focus to what it is like for them to go through changing, growing, and challenging experiences in their unique and individual ways.
For a meaningful exercise, take the time to think and write about all the things you love about your tween or teen. Put the list somewhere it can be read and reread. Focus more on who they are, rather than what they do or achieve:
- What do you love about them?
- How are they unique?
- What are some of the best moments you’ve had together?
- How are they different from you and what strengths do they have that you admire?
- What have they taught you?
- What do you love about their sense of humor?
The counsel my mom gave me 16 years ago is timeless and has held true! Being a parent opens us up to so many amazing experiences as well as difficult challenges. In this journey, feeling inadequate at times, especially with parenting teens and tweens, is not only okay, but normal. The key is to always build our relationships with our kids and base our parenting on love.
Connecting with Teens and Tweens
“Connection” is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. We use it when referring to technology and the Internet and in relation to social and business networks. Of course, “connection” is also used to describe our interpersonal relationships. You might say, “I have a really good connection with so and so” or “You and I just aren’t connecting.”
Connections are always changeable. Good ones can become bad and vice versa. Creating positive connections with our kids is key to building strong parent-child relationships.
Here are four ways you can improve your connection with your child:
Spend time together.
There are always factors—such as the demands of work or maintaining the household—that keep us from spending quality time with our children. But it’s critical to make and spend quality time with your kids. Try to make family mealtime a ritual. And when face-to-face interactions aren’t possible, take time to share a handwritten note or even a short text.
The more you can understand your child’s world and feelings, the more you’ll be able to connect. Listen more than you talk. If your child isn’t talkative, make an effort to understand where they are coming from. Think about what it’s like to be their age. Think about what they are going through. Also, take care not to let your own frustrations and anger get in the way of this. Be willing to be vulnerable and share your feelings with them, as appropriate. As a family, try sharing the best and worst parts of your day. Share the emotion you felt and why. A fun topic can also be to share something funny or embarrassing that happened to you during the day.
Families that play together stay together. Kids learn and connect through play, and research shows that play helps all of us learn better and enjoy life more. Sprinkle fun into your daily life with your kids. Share your favorite music as you clean up after meals or do chores. Go outside and throw a ball. Ride bikes around the neighborhood. Wrestle playfully with your younger kids. Having fun also means having a sense of humor. Look up funny videos or share new jokes. Fun is a powerful connector.
Customize your love.
Different children prefer to connect with their parents in different ways. Some like playing sports, others talking about science or doing experiments, and some enjoy working in the garden. The possibilities are limitless. The key is to try to bond in a way that is appealing to your child. For more ideas on this, check out Gary Chapman’s bestseller, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers.
Invest in the “Relationship Bank Account.”
You might feel discouraged at times by your level of connection with your child, but it can be helpful to think of each relationship as a bank account. You can make deposits and withdrawals. If you want to improve connection, think about doing it little by little, one deposit at a time. Pick one of the four ideas above and try doing something a little better. When that “something” becomes a habit for you, turn your focus to something else on the list.
Just remember that the more deposits you make into your child’s “relationship bank account,” the more likely your emotional connection with them will grow.
Setting Boundaries with Teens and Tweens
These principles are companions and must work together to be effective. Balancing them is essential for optimal parenting because without the other, emotional connection can lead to indulgence and boundaries can lead to a strained parent-child relationship.
Here are some practices to prove guidance while setting boundaries:
See yourself as a guide, not an enforcer.
As our children transition from tweens to teens, it’s important to maintain boundaries while gradually helping them learn how to direct themselves. This can be a very fine line that can shift depending on the progress the child is making. During challenging situations, sometimes we can become too rigid and caught up in the heat of the moment. So instead, see yourself as a guide instead of an enforcer. Your child will respond much better if they feel they’re being guided and loved, rather than forced to do something.
Have a clear vision of direction.
It’s critical that you, your partner, and your teen are on the same page. Take the time to talk with them about why a particular boundary is important, ask for their ideas on how they can be successful by following up, and express your confidence in their ability to follow through.
Think of progress in steps.
Competence leads to confidence and trust. If your child is struggling with a task, it may be helpful to break the task into smaller parts. As they get more competent with each step, it allows us to trust that they are ready to make responsible choices.
Help build internal motivation.
Relax because there is plenty of time to build your child’s internal motivation and take gradual stages so they can learn responsibility as they gain more independence. They will undoubtedly make mistakes so keep them motivated by frequently pointing out their successes rather than what they did wrong.
Focus on fewer goals and boundaries, and follow-up consistently.
Change can be hard and overwhelming for all of us. If we are trying to help our kids change too many behaviors at once, it will not only make it hard for them, but also harder for us to follow up. Make it easier on your child and yourself by helping them improve on one to three boundaries at a time. Once they’re successful at those and they become habits, feel free to gradually add more boundaries. Make sure to follow up because without it all your effort may be wasted.
Be okay with resistance.
Sometimes we want our kids to like doing chores, homework, and other tasks because it makes it easier for us. But this can be self-serving at best, and at worst it can open you up to manipulation. For instance, don’t back off requesting your child do their chores because they don’t want to. Don’t stop asking them to stay on top of their homework because you’re afraid they won’t be successful at it. Taking the easy road because of their resistance can be tempting, but stay the course. Accept that you’ll be unpopular at times as you prod them. They need your guidance to show they’re capable of pushing through challenges.
Enjoy your kids and don’t take yourself too seriously. As you practice setting boundaries, make sure to be okay with your and their inevitable mistakes.
Remember, creating a healthy parent-child relationship is founded on three principles: love, connection, and boundaries. All three must work together to be effective while parenting teens and tweens.