October 4, 2010

Wise Parenting in the Teen Years

Today, we're finishing our series on parenting teenagers. Thanks to my friend Dayna for answering our questions. 

In a time when they are more independent, how have you maintained close relationships with your girls?
My girls are varied in their interests.  They are busy.  I want them to have their interests, friends, and ministries.  I encourage their independence.  But I still want to be one of the major influences in their lives.  That means I need to spend time with them even when their schedules seem too complicated to fit me in.  I never go through the motions of the day without looking my children in the eye and talking to them or listening to them.  I purposefully stop what I am doing and give them the attention that they need.  It’s exhausting and inconvenient sometimes.

I also bribe them to spend time with me. I have found that they love to get pedicures with me if I pay.  They will gladly meet me for lunch if I mention it is my treat.  I also have taken them shopping or to a movie or a weekend away all on my own dime. 

How do you build good relationships with your child's friends, and how do you think facebook/text/cell phones impact things? 
I hate technology.  Just ask my children.   I think Satan has crafted ‘friendly fire’ in facebook and texting that fools people into thinking you have made a connection.  These things are fine in moderation and when they are balanced with some real life connections.  We, as parents, have to work harder to police these things and to get to know the people on the other side of our teenagers’ phones and computers.  I read over my teenager’s shoulders a lot.  Our computer is in the main part of our house.  Our laptop never goes upstairs.  I always ask about who they are texting or facebooking and what about.  I’m nosy.  I’m not fooled into thinking they are telling me everything.  But.  They know I’m going to ask.  For the most part, this type of communication is done with people we already know.  Our home is pretty open.  Our kids’ friends come and go frequently through our home.  We know them from church.  We know them from extra-curricular functions.  Our girls don’t spend the night with people we do not know well.  I don’t really want them on the computer or texting them if we don’t know them well.  If you want to get to know your teenagers’ friends put out some food.  They will come over.  They will talk with their mouths full, and you will have plenty of insight into who your teenagers are around.  We also shut down texting at meals/family time and have phones plugged in downstairs in a main room by a certain time each night.  It is important to me that our teenagers are unplugged.   They need time to be with each other and with us as a family.  When they have friends over, their focus in on the person in the room with them…not one on the computer or phone.  You may have to work a little harder to get to know your teenagers friends, but it is worth the effort.  Take your child and a friend to lunch.  Provide fun opportunities for your children to bring friends along and it will be a natural process getting to know them that won’t feel like a grand inquisition.  

What mistakes have you made in parenting your teenagers that we can learn from?
I think I was too eager for my teenagers to fit in.  I wanted to be the cool mom that was fun and said ‘yes’ and flew through the teen years like one big party.  God got my attention on that one quickly.  My role in parenting is to be the parent, not the best friend.  I think anytime you cross that line to feel more accepted you are making a huge mistake.  My teenagers get frustrated with me often, but that’s how I know I am doing my parenting job well these days.  I’m okay with that now.

I also have learned that my children are individuals.  Each one is very different with varied strengths and weaknesses.  I made the mistake of thinking that I could parent them through the teen years the same way.  Not so.  You have to look at each child in each situation with new eyes and ears every time.  Just because it was okay for one teenager does not mean that it will be okay for the next one.  Every situation will be different.

What's the best thing you've taught your girls about 1) God 2) boys 3) friendship 4) life choices?
God. The entire focus of my parenting with my teenage girls is to continually point them to God and keep them away from hairy-legged boys.  They know that God is the one constant in their life.  They know He will always love them.  He will never give up on them.  He has a plan for their life.  He wants a daily relationship with them.  Their life should continually be about fellowship with Him and not hairy-legged boys.

Boys.  We have taught our girls to make sure that any boy they spend time with loves Jesus.  They actually introduce them to us and say...  “This is ______, and he loves Jesus.”  It’s pretty funny.  The boy usually has no clue.  I’m okay with keeping boys on their toes and little uncomfortable.  If they can make it through the first cut, they can stay a little longer.  Matt has set the bar high.  Our girls have dated their dad for years.  They know what to expect on a date.  Matt has modeled how they should expect to be treated.  There have been no serious long term relationships come through our home.  There have been many dates and some wonderful friendships that have developed.  I like that our girls don’t feel pressured to be defined by dating.  They enjoy doing things in groups.  They enjoy the attention of boys.  They have been taught to respect boys and not to tease them.  I know God has a special person picked out to complement each teenager I am raising.  My teenager knows that truth, also.  We have taught our girls that one day God will provide them with a lifetime partner.  Together they will fulfill the call of God on their lives.  I am in no hurry for that hairy-legged boy to show up, but when he does it will be fun to watch.

Friendship.  Two way street.  True friends give and receive.  I’m raising our teenagers to value friendship.  At this stage in parenting it has moved past play dates and into emotional connections.  With teenagers, that can be dangerous.  We intentionally provide time for healthy friendships to develop and limit those that seem toxic.  We have also been intentional in encouraging our girls to develop friendships that cross age barriers.  I don’t think you should limit friendships to just your peer group.  It has proved to provide a healthy balance for our girls to have friends of many ages.  The college students that come and go through our home have proved to be great friendships for our girls.  The college students have invested in our children.  Godly friendships are one more tool you can use in parenting.  They help provide balance and good counsel when a parent may seem confrontational.  There have been many situations where an older friend has provided Godly counsel to our girls when they were not ready to listen to us as parents.  Our girls also know that we expect them to invest in girls that are younger.  There is responsibility in those friendships that allow your teenager to grow.  Encourage friendships but remind your teenagers that people are fallible.  Only God will be constant.

Life choices.  I have decided that my teenager’s life choices are their life choices.  Not mine.  I have parented intentionally.  I am still very much aware of what choices they make and how they process through decisions.  I still guide and suggest when asked.  Thank goodness my teenagers still ask.  Ultimately, the decision is theirs.  The consequences are theirs.  The rewards are theirs.  We, as parents, still say no to things when necessary at this stage in parenting.  We also ask the hard questions.  But we have begun gradually allowing our children the freedom to walk through their life as they show they are responsible enough.  I have let go of the idea that it will reflect poorly on me if they make a bad choice.  I don’t want to parent in fear or out of risking embarrassment.  I want to let go enough to allow them to stand on their own while they are home and I can still support them.