How to love a teenager

They seem to be a completely unique species – not related to the human race at all.  How do you love “something” so completely opposite to EVERYTHING you are?  Is there a way to reconcile with the teenage species?

Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed that there seems to be a rebellion rising from within children.  Then, when they turn thirteen or fourteen, that rebellion suddenly manifests itself in the most interesting ways.  I have often wondered where this rebellion comes from, and in my experience there seems to be one commonality, every time.  We, as adults, do not take time to listen…Now, you might wonder why I am writing about this topic, as it has nothing to do with identity or marriage.  However, I do believe that it is a fundamental part of our very own existence, and, the way we raise teenagers can have a very big effect on our marriages.  Just to be clear, I do not have teenagers yet, but I have been part of teenage youth ministries, on and off, for about seven years.  And for the past three and a half years, I was a teacher at one of the local high schools.  So, I can say with some confidence that I have some insight into who they are.

Let’s get to the point:  What is our role in their lives?  After careful consideration I’ve managed to narrow it down to five fundamental parts.

1) Love unconditionally.

This is probably the most challenging of all five parts.  It means that you have to love them, mostly, all the time.  Now I’ve noticed that people can get confused about what this means.  To love someone all the time, does not mean that you have to love what they do, all the time.

Often parents get this wrong, when their children are still very young. (Remember that identity formation starts from the day that your child is born).  You hear it in simple statements like: “You are naughty” – instead of saying: “what you did was wrong…”  You have to understand that saying something like this speaks directly to their character.  It communicates that essentially who they are, is wrong.  And that is never the truth.  We were created in God’s image and His likeness, so who we are, is never wrong.  What we do and think can be wrong and that behaviour should be corrected, but not who we are at the very core of our being.

When we love unconditionally it speaks of an utter acceptance of who they, as teenagers, are.  And that, is what is at the very core of everybody, isn’t it?  A need to be accepted.

I think that our society has come to a point where we too quickly speak and see the negative.  Then we employ that to be the truth over people.  And it has to stop.  We have to start speaking truth, and the character we see in our teenagers, over them.  We are the ones who are building and shaping a society with true and authentic identity.  So we have to speak it.

2) Allow them to choose.

If you want to create a society of people who are confident in what they do and know that they are making the right choices, for the benefit of the greater good (whatever you believe that to be), you have to teach teenagers how to make those choices.  The best way to accomplish this, to my knowledge, is to allow them to make choices for themselves.  Obviously, you don’t want to leave them to their own devices, which might totally ruin them, but you have to coach them through the choices they make.  Allow them to make choices for themselves and support them through the process and consequences – whether it’s good or bad.  They have to learn to make choices and to carry the responsibility and consequences of those choices.  Within this process of coaching, I want to make it very clear that you must set clear boundaries, and sometimes you will have to say no.  As adults we do not always get to do what we want and there is a certain level of teaching our children how to live under authority, that we have to model for them. Let me give you an example:

Say your daughter wants to go to a party.  Knowing teenagers and the world today, you know exactly what is going to happen at the party and what it will be like.  But, even though you’ve mentioned this to her, she still insists on going.  Instead of getting angry and forbidding her to go, let her go with your permission (she might go without your permission anyway, and that will just be a whole lot more difficult to talk about later).  BUT, set a boundary and pick her up at 11 pm.

At some stage you have to trust that what you have taught her will be the standards according to which she will make choices.  I know it is easier said than done, but you have to coach her into adulthood.  At some point in your life you have to trust that she will make wise choices – with the understanding that you are ALWAYS there for her…no matter the outcome of her choice.  This brings me to the next point.

3) Be available. ALL THE TIME

No matter how hectic your schedule is, you have to make sure that you are available and present when they need you.  Or when they need to talk about things.  The best way to ensure that they know you are available, links with the first part of unconditional love.  They have to know that you are there for them (without judgement) whether they mess up or dress-up, you love them exactly the way they are 🙂

One of my favourite memories growing up, is the talks I had with my dad.  In the evenings, when I got home around 7 pm after sports, I would go straight to the kitchen, hop onto the kitchen counter and talk to my dad while he was preparing dinner.  The part that I really appreciated the most, was that he would just let me talk.  And I knew he was listening because he would always respond with a challenge or a question based on what we were discussing.  Sometimes it was just about the mundane things of life, but sometimes we tackled the problems of church and politics and it was amazing.  Even though we did not make a huge impact on the world, there in our kitchen, minds were changed and a better tomorrow was created.  Above all of that, my identity was build and I was allowed to be myself completely.  Opinions were formulated and I learned how to voice those opinions in a way that mattered and in a way that would go on to change lives.  All because my dad was available…all the time.  Thanks dad.

4) Involve them in family matters.

I know that some people will be very hesitant about this, but I do believe that it is a very important point.  Believe you me, teenagers are a lot smarter than what you give them credit for.  They know what is going on even though you are not talking about it.  And beyond that, they react emotionally to whatever is happening, not because they want to necessarily, but just because that is where their hormones are at right now.  Remember when you used to lash out at your mom for, seemingly, nothing?  It wasn’t necessarily because you wanted to, she just didn’t understand where you were at right then (never mind the fact that you also didn’t have a clue!)

So, it is always better to talk to them about things.  Saying that, I hope that you are talking to your husband about things and that there is a culture of open communication in your home.  Obviously you have to be responsible about what you share with your children, they are not adults yet, but you have to model a culture of communication to them.  Involve them in your life, because you are a community, and they have to learn how to function within a healthy community.  They don’t have to give you the answers, but just knowing what is going on, brings so much security.

One of the most difficult discussions we had, when I was growing up, was around the time I was 17.  We were sitting around the dinner table and had just finished a great meal when my dad started talking.  He introduced the topic by saying that: “If something happened to me or your mom we just want to tell you what will happen to you.”  Obviously he was talking about their will and what would happen to me, my sister and brother.  It was terrible, because we could not and did not want to imagine life without our parents.  But, looking back at the conversation, I think it was so smart of my parents to do that.  They were preparing us for the unlikely event of their death.  And though it is a terrible conversation to have, and all three of us were in tears, we knew exactly what to expect, should something like that happen.  It brought security, in a potentially very insecure situation.  (My parents are both still alive and healthy, I just realise, as I’m raising my own child, that they did an amazing job at preparing me for adulthood.  I hope that I can deposit some of their wisdom into my child and other children who cross my path.)  And this brings me to the last point.

5) Give them space to breathe.

I think that the best thing we can do, is to create a space which allows teenagers to breathe and to just be.  We have to allow them to have space, and I truly believe that the only way you can effectively do that, is if you allow space for yourself to breathe.  You have to be at peace with yourself to be able to allow others to find that peace.  If you cannot accept who you are, you will really struggle to accept who your teenager is, and to give them room to figure it out.

Another thing that is important to mention here is that, at this age, friends are everything to a teenager.  Ultimately, you want to create a space where your children feel comfortable enough to invite their friends into. (Please note that I am not saying you can only accomplish this if you have the biggest house.  I am talking about carrying the biggest peace.)  For me, this would be the greatest gift if my daughter invited all her friends over to our house.

Having that peace will allow your children’s friends to just breathe, to feel welcome and included.  Remember we are raising a community, a society of adults who will make wise choices.  And, although there are a lot of factors that play into this, I truly believe that it starts with an identity built on solid foundations – which starts with unconditional acceptance to be yourself, to make mistakes and to have victories.

To conclude:

Love unconditionally from a point of absolute acceptance of yourself, and those around you.  May you be inspired to love more than judge.  And it all starts, I’m sorry to say, with accepting yourself completely – just the way you are.

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2 thoughts on “How to love a teenager

  1. A really good read for someone with a tween. We need to build that kind of relationship before we get to the teenager stage.

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