Knowing how to be a good parent to a teenager is challenging. What do you do when your teen makes no sense? It often seems like my teenagers exist in an alternate state of reality. For example, you’re likely aware of TikTok, an enormously popular social media network that lets users upload videos of up to 15 seconds in length. My kids are constantly on TikTok and referencing TikTok celebrities they adore. Meanwhile, just listening to them describe it gives me a headache.
Of course, TikTok is just one example of the many ways our teens explore life that feel foreign to us. The temptation is to criticize what we don’t understand. “No wonder you kids have such short attention spans!” Not only does that posture antagonize your kids, but it ensures that you miss out on the potential benefits of being involved in their lives. Here are 5 things to do other than criticize when your teen makes no sense.
1. Ask questions.
For all you know, that thing that makes no sense to you is a fabulous tool for networking or a really great way for her to make friends. Or maybe it’s just a lot of fun. But you won’t know unless you do some exploring. Why not ask your teen? It puts you in the position of learner and gives your teen the opportunity to teach you. This reinforces the idea that you are actually interested in them and what they enjoy. It also helps the power dynamic, since teens love to push back on that. Taking a posture of learning when your teen makes no sense gives you a chance to engage them from a place of vulnerability and need, which is important in relationship building.
2. Participate with them.
Whether it’s watching TikTok videos, listening to a song they love, or going with them to their favorite store, participating with your child in doing the thing you don’t understand enables you to get a look at how teens actually engage with and experience it. Pay attention to what they love about this place or these people. Try to see through their eyes.
3. Do some research.
Rather than just assuming that you know, do some research. A simple web search will give you access to more information than you can handle. Check it out for yourself before being critical of your teen’s interest. Talk to other parents or people who work with teens like a teacher, coach, or youth pastor. Maybe the problem isn’t that your teen makes no sense. Maybe it’s that you’re ignorant and you need to learn.
4. Communicate trust.
If you’re like me, you may struggle with this one. Obviously kids will make mistakes. Sometimes dumb ones. Trusting your kids can feel like exposing them to risk. And it is. The tension we live in is constantly assessing the risk versus reward of each opportunity. The really tough part is that you’ll make mistakes, too. But I don’t think there’s any getting around that. It’s still important that our kids feel trusted, even as we do all we can to ensure they are safe.
5. Don’t try to be cool.
I’ve done this far too many times. In my attempts to be the cool dad, I ignored my responsibility to impart needed wisdom, direction, and even discipline. Your kids don’t need you to be cool. They’ve got friends for that. They need you to be understanding, empathetic, and loving. They need you to be clear and firm when it comes to boundaries that you decide they need in order to flourish. Some of your teen’s interests will appear stupid to you because you are ignorant. Other things may actually be unhealthy or even dangerous. Don’t make unfounded assumptions, but do take a stand when you need to. Don’t be ignorant, but do be the dad.
Sound off: In your experience, what have you learned about how to be a good parent to a teenager?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your teen and ask about something he or she does that you don’t understand.