Once we have teenage kids, we need to change the way we work with them. We can use more complex strategies, and the responses we get will be almost adult. At the same time, we still need to play with them, just using a different gaming environment. In this article, I talk from my personal experience, so I do not provide further references.
People approach me on the street
Something strange started to happen a couple of months ago. People whom I know very well and people whom I never met approach me when I am with my kids. They are emotional and they tell me that I am a very good parent, and my relationships with my kids are inspiring. The first time this happened I did not know how to react. After the third time, I decided to systematize and share my experience.
Fathers and mothers
I guess, there is a difference between fathers and mothers. Mothers are very good at taking care of the small children, watching that nothing bad happens to the child and every need is met. The classical role of a mother is making the world more suitable for the child.
The father’s role is building up a child suitable for the world. This is less appropriate for small kids. What can we offer? Our love and affection, support for the child’s initiatives and active participation in creativity exercises. Teenagers provide more opportunities for fathers to shine.
Parenting while driving around
A large part of our parenting time is spent driving around. The teenage kids of educated and involved parents have tons of interests. And they need to be driven between their various activities by the parents. So a huge portion of the quality time is spent in the car.
The car has several advantages not available otherwise. The driver controls the situation. He can set up the rules. For example, I demand no eating in my car. If the rules are not met, I simply stop and wait near the door of the car until the compliance. Also, the child will not jump out of the car if the discussion is hard. So hard questions can be asked and honest answers can be expected.
As a driver and a parent, we should keep calm and not judgemental no matter what we hear. We can offer additional perspectives and alternatives, usually by asking questions and telling stories from our own lives. Teenagers acutely feel their lack of experience. They might try to compensate with overconfidence, but they will appreciate a good story.
Teenage interests can be very close to our own. Grownups are basically teenagers with more money and responsibilities. If we try to make the child interested in what interests us we might fail. When we try to get excited by what is exciting for our children we will probably overact. Overacting is not such a bad thing if the common interest is healthy.
My boys are interested in horse riding and guitar. I could be a responsible parent and wait, but then I would not understand their excitement. Instead, I started to learn things that are interesting to them. And since I decided to do that, I also started dancing as it is interesting for my wife.
The basic idea is to form an echo-chamber of passion. The passion of the family member causes a response within us. We act, and the family member gets more excited and feels appreciated. As parents, we are role models, but we do not have as much time to practice, so we are also students.
It is important to show the utmost respect for the positive behaviors of the offspring, and yet allow more childish emotional outbursts. We can and should condemn aggressive or irresponsible behavior, yet each time we should provide more constructive alternatives.
And then the situation may reverse, and our children will condemn our exaggeration and our mistakes. Quite likely they will be right, and we will need to learn from them.
Out of the comfort zone
Teenagers do not step out of their comfort zone. They lost the comfort zone of childhood and did not find the adult comfort zone yet. Our children are pretty much exposed. To feel empathy for their situation, we should allow ourselves to be totally exposed. For example, learning a new thing.
This is what keeps fathers young. Mothers often stay young due to the stem cells during the pregnancy. The stem cells repair the damages in the mother’s body. The fathers do not get stem cells in their blood. Men die younger than women. Yet we can feel younger and invigorated by learning new things and allowing ourselves to be exposed. It is not always pretty, often painful, but it feels very much “alive”.
We will fall. More than once. And it’s OK. When horseriding, falling can be very literal and somewhat painful. Each time a rider falls and comes back to the horse afterward, he has a small celebration offering food or beverage to the other riders. I organized two such parties. There is nothing graceful in falling off the horse, but there is a certain grace in recovery, and as role models, we want to share it.
Some of the criticism we share or get can be equally harsh. Playing a musical instrument we can sound horrible. We want our children to give constructive criticism to their peers, and we want them to be able to handle any sort of criticism in a constructive way. As parents, we are the role models for our children. We should not be immaculate. Setting up very hard standards can be counter-productive. Instead, we should occasionally fail and recover gracefully.
The respect any human being should give or get is something hard to master. We are governed by our stereotypes. As adults, we can fight our stereotypes. Teenagers are less equipped for handling their biases.
Each person has a deep inner world reflecting the universe around us, and saving one person is like saving the entire world. So we should respect everyone for this complex and magical world within.
Easier said than done, especially when the person behaves obnoxiously or has poor personal hygiene. Teenagers often misbehave and mistreat their bodies in every way imaginable. And yet, we must respect them. And we must insist they respect us without losing our temper. By respect, I do not mean common politeness, but the empathy to the needs and ideas of another human being. That’s hard.
Let go of your hopes
As parents, we want our offsprings to be outstanding. Sometimes we want them to do something we could not achieve, and sometimes we want them to enjoy what they have. Probably we will get some measure of satisfaction, but not full satisfaction and this is OK.
Many parents are very pushy and this is bad for the intrinsic motivation of the child. It is better to amplify the good impulses while dampening the bad impulses, than directly pushing the child. To do that we as parents can let go of our hopes, and instead focus on the situation itself. What is the right thing to do, and what is the most effective way to do this?
We should not expect to be always loved or always successful. Neither we should expect to be always right. The best thing we can expect is being present and helpful more often than not. Even this is very hard.
Listen to the strangers
People will always criticize us in various ways. Quite often because parenthood is damn hard and they want to share their own experiences. Some people will be qualified enough to provide an actionable tip. Others will provide a perspective that we can choose to address or ignore. It is very easy to ignore perfect strangers, and very hard to accept feedback. Yet occasionally the feedback is correct and comes from the right place. Be grateful…
That’s about all the wisdom I could master this time. As always, you are welcome to share your own thoughts and feelings. Be good to your kids and forgiving to your parents. It is damn hard to be either.