3 Things I Wish I Knew as the Parent of a Teenager
Parenting your teenager. Looking back there are so many things I wish I had done differently as a parent. Don’t get me wrong, I am a great mom, but there are times when I wish I had known better.
From the moment we hold them in our arms we are responsible for our child’s physical and emotional well-being. I worried and wondered and, as they grew, I was torn between my desire for them to stay young and my wish that they would grow up already. After years of teaching, nurturing and disciplining, our babies hit the teen years and they start to spread their wings.
When our kids are little it’s simple. If they are hungry we feed them, sick we nurture them back to health. If they are hurt we make it better. But things change when they hit the teen years. A slammed door or angry retort may have nothing to do with the situation at hand.
When my children were teenagers, I found myself wondering if they were okay. I questioned whether our life was taking its toll. I wondered if the changes I saw were normal or if they were indicative of something more. And I know I wasn’t alone. No one ever gave me a “how to parent a teen rule book” so I played it by ear.
Here are 3 things I wish I had known:
Open lines of communication are your best defense. The teen years are filled with “I’m fine”, blank looks and slamming doors. It can be frustrating and, while patience may be a virtue, it was REALLY hard to come by. But if there is one thing I learned you can do for your child it is to keep an open line of communication. I tell parents “You don’t have to be your child’s friend, but you do need to be friendly”. Don’t judge or yell just because your teen is doing things differently that you do. Listen! Listen to what they say (and what they aren’t saying). Find out what’s important to them and then make a point to care about that. Our kids need us more than anything and creating a safe and honest place for them to open up to you is critical to their well-being.
Things are different. The lives of our children are very different from when we were growing up. There is so much more pressure to be perfect and competition is fierce. Our children are asked to grow up so fast and do so in an era where every mistake is ammunition for judgment and the rumor mill. Is it the times? Is it the environment? I’m not sure, but I do know that as a parent you need to arm yourself with everything you can to combat the challenges your child faces. Limit devices and time on social media. Encourage your child to interact with friends in person and get involved. Our kids need to know they aren’t alone and you are there to catch them if they fall. (Note I said catch – not enable – but that’s a post for another day.)
Suicide, depression and addiction aren’t selective. You know our story, in fact the more I hear from and work with families at DASIUM, the more I discover how true this statement really is. This growing crisis is a real problem families are dealing with and we have to arm ourselves and fight back. I know that we can save lives IF we know what to look for at the earliest sign of trouble. As parents we need to educate ourselves as to which behaviors and warning signs we need to be looking out for and move beyond the “it’s typical teen behavior” mindset if we want to help our kids. I encourage you to observe, discuss and act – in that order and always on the side of caution. If a teen/young adult exhibits disturbances in sleep patterns, abrupt changes in friends or a social life, even their grooming habits or any of the Warning Signs we talk about, it’s time to get some help before it’s too late. (For additional information to help determine if your teen is at risk grab a copy of our book or e-book here)
What piece of knowledge do you wish you had known before you became a parent that you’d like to share?