My wife and I met while working with teenagers. I was the trip leader to a summer camp and we desperately needed a female leader. A friend of mine that knew her asked her. She bravely accepted without knowing a single person on the trip. After looking at her resume, I quickly realized that she had the most experience with teenagers by far.
There was a cabin of girls on this particular trip that were in the midst of major drama. Several days before we were to leave, two girls, formerly best friends, got into a major conflict over a guy. Bad decisions were made, trust was broken, and bad feelings grew deeper by the hour. The group of friends chose sides and, by the time we got on the bus, the situation had escalated into a civil war. I knew this Lord of the Flies (Girls Edition) cabin would be the toughest I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I also knew that our new leader who knew no one was the most qualified to lead it.
She still refers to it as the worst week of her life. It’s a miracle that we are married. However, over a decade later, some of those girls still seek her out for advice. Teenagers can be exhausting. The drama, bad decisions, and attitude can make you long for that sweet little kid in footie pajamas. During my many years working with teens, I had many conversations with frustrated parents. If you have ever thought, “Help! Parenting teen issues has me worn out,” then here is a game plan to help you.
Life Preparation, Not Obedience
Teenagers feel like no one listens to, understands or respects them, particularly adults. So they are typically suspicious of authority and annoyed at a call for blind obedience. Listen to them. They need to know the why and practical application behind the things you are asking them to do. Don’t just tell them you are preparing them for adulthood, explain how it practically correlates. For example, when they complain or don’t complete chores, explain the importance that discipline and faithfulness play in relationships with both loved ones and employers.
Choose Your Battles
Battling every issue with your teen will make you a wall of negative white noise to them.If you try to fight everything, naturally you are going to be exhausted. Even more, battling every issue with your teen will make you a wall of negative white noise to them. Your words will have less and less meaning and influence. Figure out two or three hills you want to die on and go after those (i.e. speaking respectfully to you, drinking and drug use, doing chores, etc.). Let the other ones go or, at least, ease up.
Set Clear Expectations and Consequences
Once you have chosen your battle zones, let them know your expectations and the consequences that will follow if they are not met. Never lay out a consequence you will not follow-through on. Be calm, consistent, and firmly hold your ground.
Positive Reinforcement and Bonuses
Make sure not all of your consequences are negative. Reward them when they honor your requests or show progress. Give them a weekly or monthly bonus. It could be money or simply more freedom. Compliment them on what they did right and how much you appreciate it. This generation is much more motivated by positive reinforcement than negative.
Let Go of Control
Finally, let go. Many times they have to learn through experience or even the hard way. Watching our children fail or in pain is probably the most difficult thing in the world. They want some space and freedom without always worrying about what their parent(s) is going to say. Give them room to find their way.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What rule do you dislike the most and why?”