The senior years for many teenagers can be daunting and stressful as heck! After helping three of my own children and counselling countless teenagers and parents through these years, here are my quick 16 tips for parents for the year/s ahead!
- Let them know you are here for them. Say something like you know they are incredibly independent and competent, but that you are here if they need you. And just keep saying it, even if you think they’ve heard it a million times.
- Verbal affirmation. If this is not your strong point (particularly dads) try to push past it. Tell your son/daughter that you love them and think they are amazing, they are doing a good job, tell them you are proud of them regularly.
- Leave random notes for them around the place – on their bed, in their school bag, wherever; affirming them and letting them know you have their back
- Master the art of lingering. When going in to say goodnight, don’t rush out. Kiss/hug them goodnight, ask ‘how’s everything going’? or ‘everything going ok’? and then even when they say ‘yup’… just linger around the room for a bit, looking like you might be just straightening books, or tidying up or something to see if they might talk to you or add anything. Just 30 seconds….you’ll be surprised at what they end up randomly sharing every so often.
- Second check. Make the effort to go in and check on them again before you head to bed. Sometimes it’s after ‘official lights out’ that teenagers often secretly get onto technology and may stay on it for hours!
- Create ‘spontaneous’ catch-ups. If you think they are not being themselves and might need to talk, create an excuse to take them out just you and them. For girls, invite her to join you for a coffee or milkshake after shopping. For boys, a long drive in the car (over 45 min) sitting in the front with no phone or technology does the trick… but give it half an hour, without pressured questions. Even if they don’t talk, the point is they have to sit there face to face, or side by side, and they can’t just get up and walk away. If they don’t talk, you talk. Tell them about your life; times when you are stressed, how you handled school or year 12, what’s happening in your life etc.
- Physical health. Make sure they are looking after their body. They are growing at a rapid rate! Also, perfectionist teenagers tend to push themselves in mind, body, and spirit! Check if they are sleeping properly, eating well, not skipping breakfast/lunch etc. They secretly want you to care about them, even if they say the opposite.
- Create permission for imperfection. Create moments where they can see you make mistakes and be OK. Sometimes I would deliberately leave the dishes or something out of place and make a comment out loud like, ‘oh well, its OK not to be perfect’, or ‘to cut ourselves slack sometimes’ etc. Kids are pushed so much these days by school and social pressure, they need to know its OK not to be perfect ALL the time. Home needs to be a place of ‘wind down’, not ‘wind up’ – a safe harbour, a refuge.
- Set a calming atmosphere. If you are into oils, diffusing lavender or frankincense or calming blends can create an amazing atmosphere of calmness. I’ve seen some parents use this and it works wonders in the living room or bedroom. When my teenagers can’t get to sleep they still come in and ask me for lavender and/or frankincense, which I dab on their temples and back of the neck. Works like magic.
- Move from telling to asking. If your emerging adult seems stressed with homework or life, instead of preaching, ‘well that’s because x & y and you need to do z’, try moving to asking a question: ‘is there anything I can do?’When my teenagers were stressed about exams or assignments in year 11 or 12, I would offer a cup of tea, or a chocolate, offer to wash up when it’s their night, or offer to put on some music while doing their work ,or did they want me to sit with them and do work on my computer beside them, or say a prayer for them etc.
- Encourage self-awareness.I’m not sure if your teenager is the type of teenager who fills up more by being by themselves or having others around… (I had one of each and a third for whom that too much of either was exhausting!). But something as simple as figuring out whether your child is introverted or extraverted is a great start for both you and them to know. It will help them in years to come to recognise when they are getting too full or too empty. I went further with mine and did a few interactive tests which they responded well to – such as the 5 Love Languages, Myers Briggs, and the Multiple Intelligence test. I found this last one particularly insightful with setting up individual homework environments that work for them and can be done with any school-aged child.
- Take the pressure down. Sometimes our schools really put undue pressure on senior students, particularly around ‘what subjects they need to doin order to get into the uni course they want’. And sometimes it’s us parents who are loading on the pressure and expectations. Parents, we need to learn to back off. I’m aware this may be challenging, especially if you have desires for your child’s career, but it needs saying. I encouraged my kids that uni life and timetables were not as stressful as year 11 or 12 – and they will always be able to change their career direction if they feel that a certain path is not right for them. Even though their teachers may be telling them otherwise.
- Trust your gut. If you think they are not themselves and you are concerned, take action. Tell them you want to talk (and if they resist, take them out for that coffee/water/milkshake/drive and tell them they might not want to talk, but you do!) Say that you are concerned and that what you are specifically noticing is not normally them, and see if they respond. Sometimes just sitting and letting them slowly respond is OK. Be comfortable with the silence, but also say everything you need to say, even if they say nothing. They will definitely think about it and may say something about it at a later time.
- Stay in the ring with technology. By now you may be tired and ready to give up this perennial struggle. Let me encourage you – don’t tap out! Wouldn’t that be easier though? Aren’t they now becoming young adults who we should give more freedom to? Of course –but they are still growing young people who are developing under your roof. Your job is not over, so don’t check out early! You still need to keep an eye on who they are talking to, what sites they follow, what movies or TV shows they are watching etc. At the very least it is a big insight into the things that are influencing them. Intense or sad or emotional TV shows and movies can drain serotonin(our ‘happy hormone’) so keep an eye on that. They need to have downtime and recreation that increases serotonin, things that they enjoy. One thing I used to say to my kids is ‘who’s in your room right now?’ meaning whoever they are talking to, texting, snap-chatting etc, they are basically hanging out with in their room.
- A word on porn. This is a particularly big issue for teenage boys, but is affecting more and more teenage girls as well, so don’t be naïve. Porn consumption is proven to have huge effects on teenagers mood and behaviour, let alone warping their view of healthy sexuality. Be on the lookout for behaviour like becoming quiet or withdrawn, being left at home alone for long periods, or developing social anxiety. Don’t let your teenage boy be alone in the house for days on end! Even one whole day alone is too long. Make sure you have filters on your modems and insist their phones or devices not be left in their room at night time. Have a docking station where they put it to charge each night in a public place or in parent’s room. This will save countless issues and takes the temptation (literally) away from reach, helping them and you to sleep better at night. At the end of the day however, nothing replaces parental engagement. My husband initiated conversations with our son about this area from the time he started high school. I encourage all dads to talk to your sons about pornography with your sons, and mums with your daughters, but get educated about it yourself first. It ‘aint what it used to be!
- Get on the phone. If you are concerned about your child and their behaviour, don’t hesitate to seek help! There are countless counsellors and people who work with teenagers out there who can help and advise you on what the best action to take is. That being said, sift through what you hear and do your own research. I shake my head at some of the advice I have heard teenagers and parents receive, so use your internal antennae and talk to a counsellor you trust, one who has experience and bears good fruit with other teenagers.
You may do all these already! But my main encouragement is to stay engaged. They will thank you one day, but these years may not be that day! There were many times we were able to intercept as a parent just because we stayed alert and aware of what our teenagers were doing or feeling. Our kids absolutely do need us in these years, whether they show us or not. It’s our turn to be the adult, know they may not reciprocate right now, but they will later.
Good luck – I’ll be praying for you!