Photo by Matija Barrett
Let’s face it, being a teen today is tough, and most parents do not have the best of relationships with their children at this age, but I don’t think it has to be this way. I have raised seven children, three of whom are still teens living at home, and they are not difficult. Even my older children (the three that came to us as older children through adoption) improved their behavior as teenagers. Why do I think we were we different? Because we chose to be different. We didn’t mind being completely unique, and that helped us make decisions we otherwise might not have made. Here are some problems I see that contribute to the angst today’s teenagers face:
1. There is too much work (and most of it is not productive). The school system today assigns more homework than ever before, and sports teams meet five days a week for practice, plus games (which typically cause a student to frequently miss class). Combine this with church activities, chores and a growing body that needs rest and you can see why an average teen is a little testy. We avoided this by home schooling. One of our children grew in spurts. (He would come downstairs and all of a sudden nothing would fit right.) When he got tired, I let him rest, knowing he would be three inches taller when he finally woke up. Why? Because he had what I termed ‘puberty brain.’ He was so tired no decent amount of work was going to be done by him anyways, so why fight it? The other 360 days of the year he was a hard worker so I gave him the rest he needed. Not all of my children grew this way, but he did. There needs to be some flexibility in life for real needs and if there is a real problem with the amount of work, or other school expectations, there should be other parents who would also like to see a solution as well.
2. They have no real control over their lives, but are trying to become adults. Teen years are frustrating. A teenager is rightly trying to become an adult, but they have very little actual control over their lives and many of the rules they encounter seem arbitrary. To solve this, make rules that make sense, and advocate for your teen when they are subject to rules that are just plain nonsense. If possible look closely at the person in authority over your teen and how they handle their authority before choosing an activity for your teen. Two of my sons enjoyed the boy scouts, but we moved and the men over the new troop made up punishing rules that were ridiculous. The boys watched while the leaders broke the rules but they couldn’t. When my sons wanted to quit, I let them. This was not the type of leader I wanted my boys to be, so removing those men as role models in their lives was fine by me.
3. Because school and sports take up most of their time, they have very little time for real responsibilities. Real adult responsibilities, like helping to change the oil or make a dish to take to a sick friend, create a feeling of accomplishment. Most children do not have these opportunities, and adding too many responsibilities to their lives is almost cruel. Further, there are many, many opportunities for fun that are set up in such a way that a parent would be cruel to make their child miss out, but take up much of their time and money. (Do you remember when prom was only for seniors? Now many schools have one for multiple years, and many of the dances are just as fancy as any prom I attended!) Teens are therefore learning that it is their job to have fun, and mom and dad’s job to provide it. Anything that conflicts with this will cause tension in the house. So how do we solve it? By giving our teens the opportunity to perform adult tasks and help out when possible, and by teaching them the things they need to know for adult life, and by advocating for a sane amount of extra-curricular activities.
4. We focus too much on socialization. ‘Socialization’ has become a big deal in recent years, but it has become skewed to mean ‘socialization with one’s peers.’ While friends are important, many people will not see the friends they had in high school much in their adult life. Socialization with your family, who will be there later in life, is therefore also important, but it is something we often leave out. The Mormons actually have a great idea. They are advised to set aside one night a week, usually Mondays, for family time. There is no working late for dad, or any other activities. This night provides time for the family to re-connect and helps the children remember where their true priorities lay. Public school teens are very busy, but they still need to realize that their first priority is their family.
5. Teens have too many moms. The average teen typically has more than one person they call ‘mom.’ This can be a teacher, or a friend’s mom. This may seem affectionate, but it really is inappropriate. Some teens even have ‘mentors’ that are assigned through the school or other programs. This also messes with the family dynamic because in general these adults are not supporting the family unit. Instead there is a subtle hint that they know better than the child’s family. So, when a teen is caught between pleasing a ‘mentor’ or other friendly adult and their parents, who do you really believe is going to win? The person who loves on them all day with no judgment or accountability involved, or the person who takes away their phone and grounds them from the party they wished to attend? The Bible says that a person cannot serve two masters. This is true, and some of the relationships teens are building with other adults boarders on usurping the proper authority of mom and dad. Sure, a teen with negligent parents might benefit from this, but all other teens need to be encouraged to go to their parents for advice and help. The fallacy that teens can’t talk to their parents is just that, a fallacy. Most teens have awesome parents, they just don’t want to face up to what they have done. And they are not being helped to grow up by allowing them to avoid the consequences and letting them believe their parents are the problem.
6. Bait and switch. Many of the problems I see good teens having come from situations I would have a problem with as well. Here’s the deal. The teen is told that Christmas break is coming up and they will have two weeks off. They are then told that there is a list of assignments to be done over break. What?!?!? Break means break- no work. And if mom and dad planned a vacation, how are they going to manage all of this? Things like this are common in a teen’s life, and they are wrong. They are picked for to be drum majorette, then they find out someone changed their mind. They have a game Saturday, then at the last minute it is on a Friday and they must be there. Some teens lives are so arbitrary it is easy to see why they explode. So when Mom says, ‘But we have plans on Friday,’ the teen is stuck between a rock and a hard place- disappoint mom, or disappoint the coach. And the coach usually wins. Why? Because he has the psychological ‘You’re letting down the team,’ on his side, plus he can bench the child from an activity they love. (This happens with church activities as well, where the leader assumes the teens can drop everything at a moments notice, not realizing how it messes with a family who is actually trying to spend time with their child.)
7. We juvenilize everything. High schools now have days where you wear your pajamas to school, and youth groups focus more on eating gross foods and games then they do on growing up. This is not what the teen years are about. Sure it’s ok to have fun once in a while, but the fun occurs after the work is done, not instead of it. A teen who is truly intent on being an adult, ready to live on their own and consider marriage after high school should feel weird when asked to do pointless juvenile activities. Adult jobs that pay well do not have pajama days, for obvious reasons, and no one makes their accountant or physician eat gross food as a way to judge their competence.
8. They don’t know their parents. With school, sports and other activities the teen has had very little time to get to know their parents. The majority of their interactions occur when the teen has done something wrong. This is not the way to build trust and an easy relationship. A small child does not see their parent the same way an adult does. If you do not build a more mature relationship with your child now, where you both talk and listen to their ideas, it will be harder to do later, after they move out.
9. Parents do not make the rules clear. The teen does not automatically know everything you expect him to do. If you are not clear about it, they can become confused. ‘I didn’t know’ is a frequent excuse teens use, and while it is at times a ploy to avoid getting into trouble, sometimes it is the truth. Be clear with your expectations, especially if they are different from the norm. For example, my son once ‘courted’ a girl who was an oldest child who had parents who were extremely into ‘purity.’ This was fine with him, but he did not know the rules. It seemed to him, and to me, that the parents were making things up on the fly, after they were done, which meant he was frequently shamed for things he did not know to avoid. For example: My son gave her a fairly expensive necklace; he should have known it was too much. My son held her hand; he should have asked first. They offered to let him stay at their house when he visited; he should have known to refuse. Don’t be like this. Dating, driving and other things are going to be options for your teen to experience. Come up with a game plan that is clear and known by your children before these options present themselves.
10. The teens have no life plans. There is another fallacy going around that teens need to ‘find themselves’ before college. Well, while your teens are finding themselves, and often only finding themselves in trouble, other teens are preparing for a life that supports the family they hope to have. They will be the doctors, lawyers and business owners, and hopefully, when your teen is ready, they will offer him a job. Sound harsh? A teen with no goals does not see why he needs to do anything. A teen with goals stays out of trouble because he does not want to ruin his future. Let me give you an example: My oldest son came to my house at ten and a half, and he was a handful. He was also a cocaine, fetal-alcohol syndrome baby who scored low on IQ tests. He is now making six-figures. Why? Because he had a goal, and he worked hard to achieve it. At 17 1/2 he joined the Marines. After four years of service he worked private security, going to classes to acquire all of his clearances so he could carry a gun, and then took a job doing contract work in Kuwait. Is he perfect? No, but he is doing better than many of his peers. Why? Because sitting on my couch was never an option. And when he wanted to quit high school I told him we could help him get a loan on a septic truck so he would at least be making enough money to feed his future family. (Messy jobs no one wants tend to pay well.) He didn’t like the septic idea, which is why I chose it, so he pushed through. Buying into ideas that say your teen in incapable do your teen a disservice. I knew my son could complete high school, but I also knew it would be hard. I also knew he really wanted to be a Marine. We worked together and a boy with behavioral issues and a pretty low IQ passed the ASVAB and served tours successfully in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am sorry, but I am tired of hearing that it can’t be done. That teens are wired this way, and there will always be conflict, and that sitting on your couch finding themselves is the way to success. This is bull. My nephew just graduated from college and is looking forward to working on his masters. Most kids his age living near us are thinking about maybe working at Walmart, and they are ‘good’ kids. The difference? It’s not the brains as much as the expectations that they grew up with that set them apart. And those expectations will likely cause them to struggle financially for the rest of their lives. Further, the extra time in their parent’s house is not helping their relationship. Lack of responsibility is creating tension when mom and dad become tired of cleaning up an adult child’s messes, and watching him sleep in every day. So ask yourself: Is this really what you want for your child? And if you do not, what are you going to do to change it?