When you have teenage children sometimes it’s tough to see how you’re important in their lives. You provide, save for their college tuition, and support their athletics. You wonder whether you’re making an impact in their daily life though because a lot of teenagers hardly interact with their fathers. You leave before they get up in the morning. They’re out with friends or for sports until you’re about ready to go to bed at night. On weekends they are with friends and out of the house. How are you making a difference?
If this is the relationship you have with your teenager, then it feels difficult to connect. You aren’t as comfortable giving your teenager a hug as you were when your child was small. You are no longer this formidable opponent on the basketball court, or about to outplay your teenager on the soccer field. A lot of the stuff they’re doing in school is too hard to teach them (I know I don’t remember calculus, do you?).
Here’s the real truth though, you matter a whole lot. Right now your teenager is watching the way you conduct yourself to determine whether to be like you. Your teenager is seeing if you have a good relationship with your wife, if you’re successful in your job, if you make time for God, if you take care of your own health, and if you have standards for your teen’s behavior. Your teenager measures how much you care about him or her based on what rules you set. Your adolescent child will argue with you about many, many things. Your adolescent child will try and take the opposing position on issues. In short, your adolescent child will seem contrary and drive you nuts. Your adolescent child is simply trying to push to see where you’ll push back. If you are strict about a curfew your teen knows you care enough to insist he or she be home at night (Of course, this is not what your son or daughter will tell you).
I once worked with a sweet 15 year old girl. Her dad insisted she be home after a high school dance at 11:30pm because the dance ended at 11:00. He believed it should take a half hour to drive straight home. She was spitting mad. Her date wanted to take her out to eat after the dance, and then maybe party a little bit. Her dad reminded her nothing good happens after midnight. When she came home with a dress she and her mom and picked out for her to wear, her dad made her return it. He said it was too short and too low cut. He told her she looks like a woman, but she’s still a child. Again, she was incensed. He held his ground. So, she came home on time and wore a dress that was a bit more conservative. She wasn’t happy about it.
A week after the dance the boy stopped calling and started talking to another girl who dressed provocatively and didn’t have a curfew. The girl told me she now realized he didn’t like her for her. She said he liked the idea of what he could get from her. She said she felt really loved by her dad’s protection.
Dads, your example, your rules, your consistency, and your protection all scream, “I LOVE YOU!” to your adolescent children. This is much more important for the rest of their lives than being “cool” with your teenagers.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT