Trying to understand how to help your teen in a world that is constantly changing is like trying to hit a target that constantly moves. Just when your aim is right on target, things change — your kids change. Parents are often bewildered when trying to keep up with the always-changing world of teens. It’s like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant, or holding a fistful of sand. Knowing how to set the right standards and enforce the right discipline can be overwhelming, and may seem impossible.
The key to success in this arena lies in learning to adapt your parenting style to be more fluid, more accessible.
As your child develops into a teen, you no longer have the luxury of making demands and expecting things to remain the same. Whether you like it or not, things change, and you must be able to understand and move with the culture, and set appropriate boundaries. I’m not saying you should stop caring about your family rules and beliefs. What I am saying is that how you enforce the rules must change. Otherwise, your child will be unprepared to cope with a culture that is constantly changing. They won’t develop healthy relationships. They will remain immature and irresponsible, because all of the decisions have always been made for them.
Change The Boundaries
Adapting your style must include learning how to set appropriate boundaries for their newly acquired behaviors, and giving them the choice for the direction they need to go.
A good example of how this works comes from the time I spend training horses. When I put a fence around a horse, I am setting up boundaries. The horse can go anywhere it likes within those fences. If a problem develops, I move the fences in a bit, and reinforce the boundaries. The same can be true with your teen. Set boundaries, and allow your teen to choose his direction within those boundaries. If a problem develops, or things change, move the boundaries in. Examine their world, and put some thought into what needs to be done. Kids today often engage with one another without really interacting or developing any kind of real relationships. The lack of interaction doesn’t help them hone their maturity or grow in their social skills. It’s your job to help them grow. So set the boundaries that help them do more than just engage with others – they need to learn how to interact. Let them choose the direction they want to go. Allow them to experience the consequences of choosing poorly. Help them to see that poor choices and crossing healthy boundaries will take their relationships in directions they don’t want to go, and choosing well will help them build good relationships.
Change Your Aim
Changing your parenting style for the teen years means you change your focus from punishment and discipline to training and character building.
The focus of the boundaries you set should become more about obedience, respect, and honesty, which are the top three qualities necessary to build relationships. Respect, more than anything else, allows all others to fall into their proper place. Conversely, disobedience, disrespect, and dishonesty destroy relationships, and need to be addressed when they appear also. Dishonesty, more than anything else, destroys trust in relationships. Hold your teen responsible for the direction they choose, and cause them to own it. They will make some mistakes, but that’s alright. If they lay the blame on you, however, remember to put the responsibility clearly back on them. Tell them, “this is not about me, or my mistakes, this is about you. I will never be a perfect parent, but if you don’t change things, this will hurt you in your relationships in the future.
Change Your Attitudes
Changing your style of parenting teens in order to meet the demands of today’s world also means that you refocus your own attitudes and behavior as well:
- Move from lecturing to discussing
- Move from entertaining to experiencing something together
- Move from demanding everything, to asking them their ideas about everything
- Move from seeking justice to giving grace
- Move from seeing everything that’s wrong and finding more of what’s right
- Move from spending time always telling them to more time listening
- Move from giving your opinion to waiting until you are asked.
It is difficult for teens today to grow up and move on. They tend to like their immaturity, and don’t feel the need to grow in their responsibilities. Teaching them to grow and own their attitudes and choices is one of the most important character qualities we can help them develop. So, don’t just tell them they need to be responsible, or that they need to be mature. Instead, carefully identify what is going on in their world, and begin to set out boundaries that give them responsibility and cause them to act upon them. And when the next new thing comes along, learn to adjust the boundaries in ways that help them continue to recognize their need to be mature, responsible, and own up to the consequences of their choices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.