The following six ways to nurture relationships with your teens are a good reminder to me and hopefully you. We can know the principles but living them out in the day-to-day can be hard! I currently have—count ’em—FIVE teenagers living in my house, in addition to another adult and three young boys. It. Is. A. Party. For those of you raising teens, you know it’s a very different ballgame.
One difficulty has been identifying where the transition takes place between parenting younger children and beginning the process of letting them grow in independence as I become more of a voice of counsel, rather than authority. There is certainly not a definite period of time this happens, and even each child is different in his maturity and discernment.
If you feel like there are days you’re just winging it—you are NOT alone! Every stage of parenting has brought new and different requirements and when you mix in differences in personality, it feels like you’re starting over each stage, no matter how many children you have.
We all know that keeping lines of communication open is key to helping your teens grow to maturity and wisdom. But knowing how to do that isn’t always easy. We also know it can be quite a challenge precisely because they are in a stage of gaining their independence, weaning away from us in a sense. So it’s a tricky balance.
1. Be present.
Now more than ever, we have to be deliberate about being present. Having that phone in our hands or pockets or right beside us has created a new and problematic challenge in all our lives. We struggle with this as I’m sure most families do, but it’s a good reminder to put that phone down when you are with your teens (or spouse or younger children) and give them the gift of your attention, which is only proven when you give them your face.
2. Hug them anyway.
Some of my girls are naturally affectionate, some not as much, and my teenage boy—the one who once begged to sit in my lap while I read to him—is least of all. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want us to show our physical affection. People need touch, and while some naturally may not as much as others, take time to hug your teens. If they don’t appreciate it now, they most certainly will later.
3. Eat dinner as a family.
This one is difficult if your kids play sports like mine do, but we still make a point to gather around the table with the ones who are here, and we take every chance we can when everyone is here. Gathering around the table is such an important thing for shaping us and knitting hearts together.
4. Exchange letters with them.
This one was really big when I had an especially difficult teen who was not very open to face-to-face conversation. I bought him and his two sisters a notepad, each inscribed with the words, “To (child’s name), Love, Mom.” We would exchange this notebook back and forth, writing letters to each other. It was a beautiful way to hear their hearts–things they would be less inclined to tell me in person. And it’s such a treasure to us now.
5. Enter into their world.
They are changing, they may be insecure, they may feel sad or angry or anything hormones can make us feel. Try to remember that and gift them grace on bad days. And though they may not seem like they want you in their world, they do. Ask them questions. If they spend a lot of time in their rooms, that’s a normal part of the pulling away process. A friend shared this podcast by Dr. John Cox, Parenting Teens, that helped me understand that better, and relax more about it. (You want to go listen to that podcast!) Join them sometimes. Lay across their bed and just listen to them. Smile, be in their world, and let them know that what matters to them matters to you.
6. Don’t overreact.
This one’s tough for me. I’m just a reactor. But I’m slowly learning this is not a good strategy with teens. We need to be a stable presence in their lives. A safe place where they feel comfortable coming to us—even with their mistakes. This is hard. But so worth the effort.
Teens can be such a joy and an enigma all at once. But take heart! God has chosen you specifically to parent your teens, and He promises to equip us. Also, there is grace. Grace for us to give them and grace for our mistakes. God is using all our efforts—successes and failures—for His glory and purposes.