“And when the kids are old enough, we’re going to teach them to fly”
Dave Matthews Band.
These are lyrics of one my all time favourite songs. The words have taken on such an important meaning for me as my teens become adults. As I see it, it has always been my responsibility to raise humans that are good to others, to learn as much as the world has to offer, and to find genuine relationships that bring them happiness. As parents, I think we all want that or something similar for our kids. The hardest part in achieving this though is to recognise and then facilitate what we need to teach them to fly, and then let them. We seem to get it wrong in knowing when and how to push them from the nest. It begins a lot earlier than you may think.
The reason this is actually hard to do is that we love them so much and we want to protect them, help them and guide them. Our role as parents when they were younger was all about making sure they wore clean clothes, ate healthy food, monitored their friends, their screen time, their interactions with others to keep them safe and well. This was the way we showed how much we care, love and want nothing but the best for them. And when they are under 12, they actively sought that type of parental care, so everyone was happy. When they enter teenhood though, their want for your love and protection changes. They still need it, but the delivery needs to change. They do not want us to make daily decisions for us any more. They want us to stop telling them what to do. It is like they do not care that we are protecting them from all the bad the world has to offer! It can feel confusing and heartbreaking at times.
Strange how evolution has created a stage that we feel we need to protect them from so much, coincides with the stage that they no longer want our protection! Wait...What! Why?
One key thing to a successful relationship with your teen is actually what parents can do themselves. Your attitude and parenting style needs to evolve. This is a time where working on YOU is required more than ever. You need to get educated about what is going on inside your teen before you focus on what is going on the outside. Once you understand stages of development and all the physical and emotional outcomes, you will be better placed to know how to deal with the surface stuff. There is no shortage of surface stuff with teens in case you have not noticed, so never think that this is a cruise-control stage. It is also a stage where self-work may be required by you to improve your ability to respond not react, and to recognise and deal with triggers that are more about you than the are about your teen.
The thing with the teen stage is that we think of it as one stage, which is actually very wrong. No one could ever say a 13 year old is the same as an 18 year old, and yet many struggle to adapt their parenting styles to reflect this. In fact, some struggle with adapting their parenting style from the pre-teenage stage! This is exceptionally hard when you have children in different age brackets. To not adapt however is to court damage. (It can also a sign of laziness and/or arrogance - two traits we should not be passing on to our teens).
At the end of teenhood is adulthood, and parent/child relations at the adulthood stage can often feel like it is set in stone. To come back from a damaged relationship can take a lifetime of hard work for some. Some never recover sadly. But this is not about the adult child/parent relationships (yet), my focus is the crucial teen stage, or the three teen stages. Think Beginning, Middle, End. I am not going to assign ages to the stages, because every teen is unique (an important point to remember). But if there was ever a stage of parenting that required you to be an active and positive role model, the teen stage is it.
There is an interesting concept that many parents of teens invest in is the belief that the best way to raise teens is to control them. Yes, you can try the control method; you can set firm boundaries and rules and if you are lucky, your teen may comply and things might seem peaceful and easy on the outside. However, I challenge this notion of ‘peace and harmony’ and predict that your teen may not feel the same way. Being controlled and ruled is no way to live, grow or develop. This may seem like an effective way to parent, and many were brought up this way, but have you really looked at what you are doing and the messages you are passing on?
Adult relationships and the adult world should be about mutual respect and genuine care (in my humble opinion) and these qualities are learned and require practice. Learning to compromise, make decisions, deal with consequences and to develop confidence, humility and genuine care for others requires powerful role models, opportunity to practice and unwavering support. Does an authoritarian parenting style enable these? *News flash, the ONLY person on this earth you have the right/responsibility to control is yourself.*
Parents need to get educated about issues and developmental stages so they can make calm, rational decisions on some pretty serious situations and circumstances. Believe me, 'rational' is not as easy as it use to be, and the things our teens face can literally be life threatening. But that does not mean we need to panic. We just need to consider some things first and operate from a place of calm maturity. Easier said than done. Raising teens is about picking your 'battles' and conceding to lose a few battles to win the war. (I hate using conflict as a metaphor here, but in this case it is an effective way to demonstrate my point)
The act of raising teenagers is actually raising the world's future adults. I am not sure about you, but I feel there is a great deal about this world in with it's current mob of adults that has got it so wrong. My goal for our teens is to put 'better' adults in the world. That will not just happen, we need to help it happen. We need to raise adults that understand love - how to give and receive it; compassion, kindness, commitment and respect for the world and one another. This starts at home: with us.
Join me in the next chapter where we explore parenting the early stage of teenhood with the ultimate goal of teaching them to to fly.
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