5 Lessons I’m Learning From Parenting Teens

My daughter described in great detail a magic show she went to see. When she talked about some of the magician’s on-stage idiosyncrasies, she remarked, “It was such a millennial thing to do.” I’d never heard that statement before, and I suddenly learned that the people I thought were too young to have developed defining characteristics (millennials) now have a generation below them that mocks them.

You learn a lot by parenting teens. Some are simply humorous or interesting things like my anecdote above. Others are literally life-changing. Here are 5 lessons I’m learning from parenting teens that fall in that latter category.

1. We take life too seriously.

Nothing will make you realize how little you know about what’s cool, what’s happening in the culture, or how to use language in a way that isn’t embarrassing nearly as much as having a teenager. When your teen would rather not have his friends over or is asking you to drop him off a block away from the school, you pretty quickly realize that even if you are a sought after person in your profession, you aren’t “all that.” This is actually a gift that parenting teens offers you. It’s the invitation to take life, and yourself, a little less seriously.

2. Helping people isn’t always helpful.

I recently had a conversation with my daughter about a difficult class and how she had been “helping” her friends by giving her completed homework to them to copy. As we talked about it, she struggled to comprehend why this wasn’t good. She thought she was just being helpful. This and other conversations with my teens have caused me to reflect a little on my own tendency toward over-helping. Like them, I too quickly can try to rescue someone who is struggling. However, this often short-circuits other people’s ability to learn and develop resilience. In this way, parenting teens has helped me to see that helping people isn’t always helpful.

3. Self-care matters.

I’ve never been good at taking care of myself. I’ve always thought it was more important to take care of others and leave my needs on the sidelines. However, as I’ve parented my teens, I’ve seen how much their attitude about taking care of themselves plays out in their ability to care well for others. When we don’t prioritize self-care, we rarely have the resources to care well for others. Parenting teens has taught me how critical self-care is to having healthy relationships.

4. We lie to ourselves a lot.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard my teen say something about herself that she knows isn’t true—“I’m stupid,” “I don’t have any friends,” “I can’t do this.” These are statements that are objectively false, and yet she chooses to play them over and over in her mind. And as she does, I see it impact the way she sees herself. It drives me crazy, but it also challenges me to consider the ways I lie to myself. For example, when I make a simple mistake, my immediate thought is, “Idiot!” Do I believe I’m an idiot? No. And yet, I play the track in my mind again and again. I’ve had to start calling myself on my own lies, just like I call my teens on theirs.

5. Experiences matter.

You probably know the feeling of spending lots of money on things for your teens only to have them lose interest in a matter of days. A few years ago, my wife and I decided that we would shift our spending from getting them “stuff” to taking short, inexpensive but adventurous trips with our kids. We’ve gone places like New York, Nashville, and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. These trips have become benchmarks in our kids’ lives and have served to deepen their connection to us and each other. Parenting teens has taught me the value of investing in experiences over things. The things we buy them break. The experiences we have with them create memories and form bonds that last a lifetime.

Sound off: What has parenting teens taught you?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there anything you think I take too seriously? If so, what?”