8 Effective Tips for Raising Teens
A personal testimony by Melinda Taylor Schoutens, mother of teens and co-author of Fresh Air Kids
“Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.” - Unknown
We now have a teenager in the house and a pre-teen. It still takes a bit of time for me to type those words without getting emotional. Everyone said my children would grow quickly, that their baby years would pass in the blink of an eye, but when you are knee deep in nursing, changing diapers, worry and learning, while you can appreciate the relevance of those words, you simply cannot see past the sleepless nights. Despite being present for every cold, every tooth that surfaced, and all of their milestones, my children’s baby years flew. I still miss holding their chubby baby bodies in the crux of my arm, as their warm bodies melted effortlessly into mine. I long to kiss the cheeks that I sunk into, plump from milk and smiles.
Tips from Older Parents
Today, we are in the depths of raising teens. I am filled with gratitude and awe at the people our children are becoming, but as we navigate these years together, I worry about them in a way that I never have before.
I have come to realize that as much as they are learning and need their own tool kits to rely on, as parents, we too must learn to adapt to this new age of parenting and rely on our own resources as well.
One tool I rely heavily on, is to seek advice from friends who have already had experience with this age group.
There is nothing like calling on a mother who has been there and done that! A good friend of mine in her 70’s and is such a phenomenal resource, that each time we meet, I cannot help but lean in closer and get really quiet whenever I ask her advice. As a long-term educator, author and experienced mother, she is wealth of valuable information. I encourage all families to seek advice from either their own parents or insight from someone who has already moved through and successfully completed the teenage years. As I speak with these mothers, I also find peace in the fact that all families struggle to traverse issues (both big and small) during the teenage years. Families are never alone with their struggles, which is very comforting.
Another aspect of raising teens is the realization that while family dinners have always been routine, at this age they are essential. We therefore, make it a family priority to gather around the dinner table almost every night. During that precious time, as the day winds down, we have the opportunity to discuss the day’s events, what we are thinking and even what we are grateful for.
Mealtime has become a sacred bonding ritual that allows us to get a true pulse for how our children are doing. We do what we can to protect that time, now more than ever.
I was recently listening to a podcast and took the following information to heart. A mother of two teen boys and a former college professor mentioned that it is important for us to simply be available to our children free of distractions.
Her key strategy was to sit in a central location and just be. She didn’t scroll through her phone, sift through a magazine or read a book, she simply sat. By doing so, she was physically and emotionally available for her sons should they need her.
She stated that more times than not, her children would come sit beside her and strike up a conversation. I try to do the same with our children, however, I love to do this on hiking trails. Whenever we are on a family hike, my husband and I create a dance between our children, moving ahead with one and falling back with another. Time after time, our children dive into very powerful conversations and meaningful discussions. We have always prioritized outdoor time for so many reasons, but now more than ever we seek the natural world.
After a discussion with a therapist friend of mine about teens and my need to understand a bit more about what is transpiring in their minds, she recommended a very valuable book.
Blame my Brain - The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed by Nicola Morgan is written for teens, but as a parent of a teenager, I found myself tearing through the pages.
Easy to read and simplistically explained, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The book is broken down into six chapters, each chapter dealing with the most prevalent teenage issues. From a detailed explanation of the brain and its complex functions, to emotions, sleep, the need to take risks, the difference between boys and girls, depression and addiction, this book was a comprehensive overview of the trials and tribulations teens experience.
As parents, we have also found that spending alone time with each child, even if that time is short, is a genuine bonding opportunity. When we take the time to travel, eat a meal or wander through the city, that time signifies that the child who is alone gets our undivided attention.
During these magical, yet infrequent times, our children blossom in ways that may not have otherwise existed in the presence of their sibling. We now work very hard to find the time to spend with each of our children alone.
Respect Their Independence
As the parent of teens, we start to observe the independence our children crave. Whether it be a sign on their door that clearly states, “Knock before entering,” their desire to meet with friends outside the home, or staying up later and later. Teens are designed to push boundaries, to create a life of their own, free from us. As I struggle with this new found sovereignty, I realize that this need for independence is merely a part of a crucial process.
As parents, one of our primary goals is to raise our children to live happy, healthy, productive lives independent of us. We want them to move freely in the world with the ability to assert themselves free of us.
Whenever I struggle with my child proclaiming his freedom, I remind myself that this is part of his growing up and this is after all, his life. Letting a child know that we are always there to love, support and listen to them is vital, but they are free, with boundaries of course, to live their lives.
During the teen years, our children’s sleep habits and eating habits are all over the map. Discuss the importance of quality sleep with your children.
Talk about sleep hygiene and what it means to wind down for the evening. Reading is an excellent way to unplug before bed and nurture good sleep habits.
On that note, continue to read to your child if he or she is receptive to the idea. Not only is this educational, it is a great way to bond with your teenager. My children still crawl into our bed at night, with their favorite chapter book and together we read. This time feels absolutely sacred to me, as I know this tradition is fleeting.
Talk with your child about the importance of nutrition as they grow and their bodies develop. Though the choices they make outside of the home may not resonate with you, focus on feeding them whole food nutrition in the home.
Encourage your children to help with meal preparation and to understand the importance of eating a well-balanced diet.
When we eat well, we feel better – it’s that simple!
Open lines of communication are paramount when it comes to creating trust, clear expectations and open dialogue.
As children age, they should feel that their home is a safe haven. A place free of pressure and external expectations.
In that safe zone, children should feel comfortable coming to their parents to discuss areas of concern, fear, and be able to question without judgement. As parents, it is also important for to discuss openly and freely our expectations and rules for our children.
Raising teens can feel overwhelming and messy, which often times leaves us in a state of unknown or turmoil. Perhaps that is part of a necessary process. A process of creating and nurturing adolescents that will one day walk through this life as adults independent of us.
At the end of the day, it should be our goal to love our children fiercely, set clear guidelines and boundaries and get out of the way so that they can leave their unique mark on this remarkable world.
About the Author
Melinda Taylor Schoutens is a mother, wife, educator and author. Born and raised in the United States, she moved with her husband to Switzerland in 2007. Their initial contract of two - years quickly morphed into 14. Learning to be flexible and open to new possibilities has taught her a great deal. Now, as the mother of two children, Basel feels very much like home.
Melinda holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught adults and children on an array of topics. She has designed educational curriculum for years and has curated and delivered a lecture entitled, “The Education of Nature.” She is the author of the Fresh Air Kids Switzerland book series, which you can oder here.
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