Thursday, March 29, 2007

Secrets for Raising Teenagers

I devote a lot of words in this column to my three-year-old twins, but today I’d like to talk about my teenagers. I have really been so very blessed with these two boys. At ages seventeen and fourteen, they both take Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, and score As and Bs. They don’t drink alcohol, do drugs, or have sex. Of course, we have the usual arguments with them about how “overworked” and “underpaid” they are (their interpretations!), but overall they are just really good kids. I can’t take all the credit for it. In some ways, the odds were stacked against them as I raised them by myself for 9 years until I remarried 4 years ago. For most of that time, I received no financial support, so money was often tight. And now we face many of the problems encountered with blended families. But the boys have hung in there and make me incredibly proud. Here are some pointers for keeping teens on the right track:

1) Love them. I still tell my teens that I love them every day. They may be too embarrassed to return those words at this stage in their lives, but it’s temporary. Some day, they’re going to remember that you always told them you loved them, no matter what. When they do something wrong, emphasize that you still love them, even if you don’t love their behavior. Teens tend to overdramatize when they’re yelled at and say, “You don’t care about me.” Make sure they understand that you can still love someone even if you’re not happy with their actions.

2) Don’t be afraid to set limits. You don’t need to be your teens’ best friend. If you feel uncomfortable about them going somewhere, put your foot down. There have been several times when I’ve told my sons they couldn’t do something, and they’ve later thanked me because they heard the situation had turned troublesome. Sometimes, they really want an excuse to tell their friends “no,” and what better reason than, “My mean mom won’t let me go!”? I don’t mind being the “meanie.” I wouldn’t be mean if I didn’t care.

3) Get them involved in something outside themselves. My children have benefited greatly from attending our church youth group. Most of their friends are from church, and it makes me feel good that they’re involved in fun, but wholesome activities with them. Best of all, there’s a strong emphasis on thinking about others. My oldest son has been on two mission trips so far—to Costa Rica and Alabama—and will be leaving for New Orleans on his spring break to help rebuild houses. These have been some of the greatest experiences of his life and a good lesson for him to see that others have it much worse than he does!

4) Emphasize the importance of family. Kids need an anchor, a sense of belonging to “something.” Even though my two boys and I were a very small family for many years, we always stressed the fact that we were a team. My kids didn’t feel they were “missing out” by having a small family. They also have a good relationship with my parents. When I remarried, we were very fortunate that my husband’s family embraced my children as part of their family right away. My husband’s parents treat my sons just as if they were grandchildren born to them, and this new relationship has really been beautiful to see. One summer, their new grandpa flew the boys to their house in Alaska for some adventures. This sense of family has really been grounding for the boys.

5) Make them help out. Your kids may tease you by saying that you wanted kids just so you’d have household help, but don’t let that discourage you from insisting that they participate in taking care of the home. Teens are old enough to do their own laundry, clean their rooms, scrub the bathroom, do the dishes, and anything else that you do. You’re doing your kids (and their future spouses) a favor by teaching them how to take care of themselves and a household. Don’t back down just because they complain or do a shoddy job. All family members should be required to pitch in. And don’t give them allowance for things they should be doing anyway, like keeping their rooms neat. Give them cash for extra jobs, like mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.

6) Respect their choices. Let’s face it: Our kids are never going to be the little clones we’d hoped to raise—people who would act and think exactly as we do! Teenagers are constantly trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. Don’t criticize their choice of music (unless it’s particularly violent), hairstyle, clothing, etc. Take a look at your old high-school pictures, and you’ll see that your own children’s experimentation is perfectly normal! Yes, they’re still kids, but they want to be treated as adults. Exerting total authority over them is bound to backfire. For the things that are temporary, let them have the choice. Blue hair will grow out. (Tattoos, however, won’t. Say “no” to them.)

7) Teach them about future consequences. Kids need to know you won’t be taking care of them forever. Express the importance of education to enable them to get a good job. Explain to them how their actions today greatly impact the future. They’re not likely to be able to have the things they want if they have a criminal record or lack a high-school diploma. Show them how much a car and a house cost. Go over a monthly budget with your children so they see how much money it takes to feed a family, pay the utilities, provide housing and transportation, etc. Kids tend to take these things for granted. They need to think about how their parents are able to provide these things, and how they’ll be able to do the same when they’re adults.

There are many ways to raise a child, and every child is different. Therefore, there is no magic formula for raising good teens. Excellent parents can still have problem children, and good children come out of bad homes. But by staying closely involved in your children’s lives, even when they don’t appear to need you as much anymore, you’ll be teaching them the lessons they need to learn to be the successful and happy adults you’d like them to be.


  1. You have some great points. I would add "HAVE FUN" with your teenagers. Make important conversations fun by being straight-forward, honest, and revealing about the lessons you learned at the same age. Remember the foolish thoughts you had?

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Mike's comment. As soon as you enter your child's room looking "all serious," he or she immediately shuts down. Interactive conversations are so much more appealing to them than serious lectures. You can discuss important subjects and yet have fun at the same time. Thanks, Mike, for this valuable insight.


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