Your teenagers learn what is valuable from your behavior. Photo Credit: imagerymajestic via freedigitalphotos.net
1. Faith in God: If faith is important to you, then you have to model it, not just say it. It is easy to say something like, “I don’t want to force my kid to believe a certain thing. I’ll let them decide when they grow up.” In the meanwhile you don’t really expose them to your faith because you don’t want to be pushy. Please just know that if this is the tack you take, you’re kids will probably grow up not believing in any kind of organized religion. You need to model a strong faith in God if you want your kids to grow up with faith. Your teenagers pay astute attention to whether you react with anxiety or prayer. They notice whether you devote your spare time to helping others or doing what feels good for you. They are watching to see if you turn to scripture or if you turn on the news for your hope in the future. Every single day there are a hundred little choices we have to make to turn towards God versus turning towards ourselves, and your kids see almost every decision you make. They copy you. In their future they are more likely to choose a faith if they have been shown how by your example.
2. Finances: Do you buy things you can’t afford? Do you pay for little extras like a daily cup of coffee and then dismiss the cost because “It’s just a few dollars?” Do you get your hair done each month even though there really isn’t a college fund set up yet? Your teenagers are paying attention. They believe they can have anything they want right now it if that’s the example you set. If you are intentional about saving up for things like vacations and a car when you need one, they will learn that behavior instead. When they want something nice, if you help them map out how to work for it and save for it, they will start to really value what they have, and will start to think carefully about how they spend their money. Your kids are also watching to see how you give and how you save. If you invest wisely for the future, and talk about it a little all along the way, they will learn this is important. When you prioritize giving to others, they will value giving. You have a HUGE influence on your teens by your example with finances.
3. Humility: Your teenagers learn an immense amount from you on how to behave in relation to other people. If you are humble in your relationships, your teens will start to act with humility as well (Rick Warren explains humility to mean, “It’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”). I have a neighbor who is constantly doing small things to help out other people. She makes food if you feel sick; she watches your kids for a few minutes if you have to get something done; she asks about that thing you complained about 5 weeks ago to see if it’s better. She is constantly thinking of others. She is subtle in how she does it, and it is certainly not so people will like her. In fact, she isn’t thinking of herself at all. She is simply the walking definition of humble. As her kids have gotten older they have become more and more kind. They are both incredibly sweet to the younger kids on the street. They are polite. They seem to automatically look for ways to serve someone in the smallest things. When they were trick-or-treating last Halloween they both made sure other kids got their candy at the door before they put their hands out. I don’t think they are even conscious of their kindness. I think it’s something they are learning from their incredibly humble mother. These children know how to behave in relation to others. Imagine these two when they are teens. Don’t you want your teenagers to be like that? They are watching what you do, and they are learning.
This blog isn’t written to condemn you for all the things you’re not doing right. It’s tough to be perfect. We are all doing the best we can. All I’m asking of you is to be intentional. Make sure you are showing your children the kind of adult you hope they become. Don’t raise your kids without intentionality, because the default is to let screens and peers raise your teens. Instead, I want you and your values to the most significant influence in their lives.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Let’s face it, as parents we all struggle to balance authority and love. When our kids are being respectful and obedient, it’s much easier for us to be kind, patient, and giving. When our teenagers are argumentative, rude, and ungrateful, we find ourselves wanting to exercise our authority. Watch this quick video to learn a little bit how you can balance the two for maximum effect. HINT: It’s all about going slowly.
Be thankful for your kids, they are a gift from God. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We have so much to be grateful for. It is incredible that we can live in a country with so much freedom. God truly blessed each and every one of us in ways we take for granted every single day. Even having clean water and enough to eat is not a given in many parts of the world.
The reason I remind you of this is because if you’re reading my blog it means you’re probably hurting. It means your teenager is behaving in some way that scares you. It means you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent and you aren’t sure what to do to help your child. That is the most helpless feeling in the world.
It does us a lot of good to count our blessings. This is especially true when it comes to your teenager. I realize things are tough right now, but there are a lot of things going right too. It’s very easy to become very focused on resolving one problem. When you do this, you forget to see all the other things that aren’t problems.
I have a few clients in my therapy practice who struggle with body image. Their focus on their body image is so intense that it often dominates the teen’s whole life. It’s difficult for the parents of these teens because they worry about whether their child is eating enough, exercising too much, or just loathing their appearance. The parents of these children have found it helpful to refocus on what is going right with their kids. In some of the cases, these teens still maintain good grades and do not use any substances. They are still loving and engaged with the family. These parents try and keep perspective that there is a lot going well even though there is also a problem.
Life is like that, isn’t it? We see problems run parallel with blessings all the time. We shouldn’t ignore the problems, but we shouldn’t ignore the blessings either. In fact, if you think back over your whole life, I bet you can hardly identify a time when things were all good or all bad.
Raising kids is about maintaining the perspective that things could always be better and always be worse. Tell them constantly what you’re thankful for about them. Work with them on improving what they can do better, but don’t make that the only thing you talk about- that would come across as critical. You want them to know all the reasons you think they’re great too.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
“So I totally think it’s fine to steal from Target because they’re a big corporation. I mean, who is it really hurting? They make tons of profits and they’re just greedy anyways.” This is something I heard straight from the mouth of a teenage client a few weeks ago. The parents don’t believe stealing is appropriate in any circumstance. They definitely aren’t training their kids to be envious, which is the sinful character flaw that leads to the belief, “You have too much so I deserve to take it from you.” Envy is much more destructive than jealousy.
The problem is this child’s parents aren’t paying any attention. Their teenager is learning from Tik Tok videos, Instagram, and whatever other corner of the internet they’ve found. The kid didn’t even realize what she was saying because she has not been provided enough moral training to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was a big wake-up call for the family that they have to put more time and effort into moral training.
We grew up in a time when not stealing was a given. Society did a lot of the moral training for us. It’s not the case anymore. Your child can wind up in the company of people (via the internet) who continue to perpetuate bad ideas because social media helps us find like-minded people. We no longer have to rub shoulders with people who think differently than we do. While we may be more comfortable this way, we definitely don’t grow as humans. Like it or not, it’s just the way it is now.
This means you as parents have to be EXTREMELY intentional about training your kids up in what is right and wrong. You cannot let the current trends or dictates of society make that determination for them. History shows us how incredibly wrong many trends end up being. Of course this means some of what is popular to believe today will not pan out to be good.
I am enrolled in an 8 week class on how to help parents of adopted children connect better as they bring the new child into their home. While I don’t have any adopted children (hats off to those of you who do- what a loving and selfless act), I have gleaned some very helpful information. I tried one of the techniques on my obstinate 5 year old this week and it helped me feel compassion rather than frustration when he lashed out in anger. I will take compassion towards my children over frustration any day!
Catch your kid being good in order to improve the relationship. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I was an intern my supervisor used to tell me one of her favorite pieces of advice to give parents was to, “Catch your kid being good.” She’d say that so often by the time a parent brings their child into counseling, they are at their wits end with their child. She’d say exasperated parents make impatient parents; impatient parents make parents who are overly focused on the negative; parents who are overly focused on the negative make critical parents; critical parents make irritable children.
I see this in my counseling office on a pretty regular basis. It’s not that the parents who are coming in are bad parents, or are unloving to their teenagers. Most of the time they love their teens tremendously, but are just overwhelmed with how to help them stay on track. Some resort to the tactic of trying to correct things as they see them. This is fine when the relationship is in a good place. However, if the relationship is strained then it doesn’t tend to work very well.
If you are wondering whether you might be in this cycle with your adolescent, try something different for a week and see if it helps. As my former supervisor, Leslie Gustafson used to say, “Catch your kid being good.”
What does that mean? We are quick to comment on, and punish our kids for doing bad. If they score a low grade on a test, tell a lie, sneak, sass, etc., we feel we must do something about it. When our kids are respectful, do their chores on time, are honest, etc. we think that should be status quo. We tend to say nothing much about it because we think that’s how it should be anyway. We save the praise for A’s on tests, going above and beyond around the house, or when our kids randomly show us extra appreciation.
For this week, try making affirming comments when you see your child just doing the status quo. When you notice your teenager doing anything small that is the “right” thing to do, praise them. Maybe you came home from work and noticed they had started their homework on their own. Instead of saying, “See, isn’t it easier when you start your homework early?” which comes across as a little condescending, say, “That’s awesome that you take initiative to get your work done!” If your teenager clears their dish after dinner, thank them. Try to resist the urge to then remind them they also need to wipe down the table.
You have the power to change the interaction with your teenager, and the power to influence their attitude. All it takes is a few words of praise when they are doing the small things right. You will be kinder to them because chances are, there are parts of them that are a really good kid. There’s also a good chance they will enjoy the praise, and want to keep doing that thing you commented on in order to get more praise from you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.