Parenting teens: remember which of you is the adult.

by Jennifer Dyer

Have you ever acted unreasonable? Gotten into a shouting match with your child? I had an eye opening conversation about this with a fellow mom recently. She was relating a parenting incident with her older teen, and I loved the way she summed up her parenting philosophy: remember who is the adult.

How simple it sounds, yet how difficult to execute. I’ve had moments where I wondered why I said something I didn’t  mean. I remember one incident when getting ready for church and my tween daughter was being a bit difficult. I lost it and said, “Fine, I’ll just tell Grandma not to buy you any more pretty clothes because you are too stubborn to wear them!” As you can imagine, this went over quite well. I’m not sure if we even made it to church that morning…

My friend talked about avoiding these conversation pitfalls, especially with older teens. She spoke of times when one of her teens made an idle threat about getting several jobs so she could move out on her own. Instead of yelling and screaming and getting out the calculator to prove why her teen’s idea was illogical, my friend said she just nodded and said, “Okay, we’ll discuss that when you get your jobs.” She said the same of school. Instead of yelling and screaming about the study habits of her college-aged child, she just put down some clear boundaries at the beginning: make this level of grades, we’ll pay for everything. You decide to go part time, then you will have to have a job for any money over room and board. You quit school, you will have to pay for your portion of room and board if you stay here.

There are moments when emotional flare-ups happen, but my friend said she has trained herself to step back and think before she responds. Yelling doesn’t help the situation, and it doesn’t teach her child any conflict resolution skills. In the mean time, keep handing in there, fellow parents.

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Bullying: who has the power?

by Jennifer Dyer

Bullying is often an issue of power. In many cases the bully-er is not a “bad” person, and they may not even be intending to hurt others. Some kids (and adults) feel the world would be a better place if it were run by them. They tend to mow over others in order to maintain that position of power. Other people enjoy the power they feel from being hateful and rude to others. They usually have some deep psychological issues from their own feelings of inferiority and lack of power. Some people are taught to hate by those around them and may continue to live in that ignorance.

Why is this important to understand? It helps to know the “enemy.” I want my daughter to understand why people do mean things. Are they afraid? Has someone made them feel so small that this is their only way to deal with the world? Perhaps their lives lack compassion, or perhaps they have no idea that they hurt others by their words. Perhaps they lack a personal edit button. Whatever the reason, once we understand the heart of a person it is easier to love them, to deal with them, to pray for them, to forgive them, and to have compassion for them. Forgiving and having compassion for someone who has hurt you is a way to transfer power, so to speak.

In my post for MomLifeToday entitled, “Bullying: How does a mother deal with it?” I spoke of meeting a black woman who had grown up in the deep south before the 1960’s. If anyone understood bullying, it was her. She told me some of the most heart wrenching stories, but instead of living in bitterness, she lived in peace, love, and understanding of those who persecuted her because of her wise mother. Her mother helped her see that the people who hated her just didn’t understand God and His amazing love. They even prayed for those who hurt them as a family. Amazing! Through her parent’s support, she grew into an amazing person in spite of the hate she endured.

In addition to understanding “the enemy,” understanding self is important. I remember an instance where someone “hurt my feelings.” One of my friends shook his head at me and said, “No, he didn’t hurt your feelings. You allowed his actions to have an impact on your feelings. You are giving him the power over your emotions.” Yes, we could argue that this is not always accurate, or that simple, but my friend’s advice helped me see that I had power over how I let others affect me. I could choose, to an extent, how much I let someone’s actions or words to impact my life. Suddenly, I was empowered.

What are some ways you have helped your children understand others and deal with the negative words and actions that have affected them?

Also, a good book for reading and discussing the bullying issue with your children is, Blubber, by Judy Blume.  (Book review on Blubber.)

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Bullying: keeping perspective.

by Jennifer Dyer

Matthew West‘s inspiration for his latest album came from letters written by his fans. One such letter was about a lonely and isolated boy trying to survive middle school and the mean-spirited, bullying comments that many of his classmates toss in his direction. My heart when out to that boy, as he could be any one of us.

High school and middle school were some of the hardest years of my life, and I still revisit those days occasionally. In my nightmares. I’m usually in my pajamas and looking for a bathroom, only to discover the one and only facility available is in the middle of the student-packed gymnasium. With no walls. Ack!

So, how to make it through the piranha-infested waters of middle and high school? How to make it through the seasons of being a bully target? I’ve already suggested becoming involved in extra-curricular activities and service projects outside of school, so today I want to talk about keeping perspective.

A few months ago I developed an infection that almost took my life. In a moment of near death I prayed to live, for the will to live. And in that same moment I knew it would be hard. I just didn’t know how hard.

How did I make it, at least mentally? Prayer, lot’s of prayer, and perspective. I told myself that it would not last forever even though it felt like it might. My parents, sister, and husband told me the same. I kept my focus on what was important: my children and my family. In the moments where the treatments were akin to torture, and I felt as though my surgeon was the meanest bully on the planet, I thought of my many reasons to survive. And I reminded myself that the pain would not last forever.

So, it is with the teen years. I had many ups and downs–more downs–but in retrospect, it was such a brief time in my life. Today I can think of high school as a mere, but smelly, subway stop where I had to wait until time to go to college and begin the rest of my life, which I have enjoyed very much, cancer and all.

So, whether you are a teen or the parent of a teen trying to navigate through this time in your life, keep your perspective. Parents, help your child keep their perspective. Remind them that the world is a much bigger place than the walls of their schools. Life has different seasons and many subway stops, if you will. Don’t allow difficulties, including difficult people, to make you or your child feel trapped. Keep the perspective that in a few years everything will change.

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Parenting Teens: encouraging responsibility.

by Jennifer Dyer

In a recent conversation with a responsible, hardworking teen friend, I asked her what motivated her to be responsible and how her parents helped her in this area. I summarized some of her responses below.

Boundaries, not micromanaging: Homework has to be done by Thursday night (she takes university classes), but her parents do not micromanage how and when she gets her work done. They give her reasonable freedoms, but also let her deal with the consequences. Didn’t get the work done? She has to deal with the aftermath, including any embarrassment that comes from the teacher. Also, they might have to restrict her more the next week.

Balancing boundaries with trust: “Where are you going, how long will you be there, who will you be with, and when are you coming home? Your safety and well-being is a priority for us.” She reports that many of her peers wish their parents took a greater interest in their whereabouts and activities. She said she and her friends want to know their parents care about where they are and what they are doing. They want to be held accountable for their boundaries even if they sometimes don’t act like it. At the same time, she said it is embarrassing to be called constantly. That feels as though parents lack trust.

Mini steps toward freedom: Obviously I am talking about a very responsible person, but I’ve known her all her life and have seen her parents take constant mini steps back to letting her have more responsibility. Her boundaries were much tighter when she was in middle school and have loosened each year as she grew.

Money responsibility: She likes having some financial responsibility, such as with her car. She pays for her own gas and insurance. In the past, she has worked to pay for things such as a summer camp and summer mission trips. She says this makes her feel more grown up and is helping her learn how to manage money before she gets out on her own. However, just because she takes part in her car finances, it does not mean that she doesn’t share the car and driving responsibilities with her parents.

Taking an interest in her life: Aside from the boundaries part, her parents are obviously interested in her as a person. They talk to her. Mom sits down with her for tea, and dad takes her out on dates. They respect her opinions and, as she is their eldest, even ask for her input in some of the big family decisions. She is a member of the family and is expected to be a part of their lives.

More from my interviews with a teen series tomorrow…

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Parenting teens and other ages: backing up your spouse.

by Jennifer Dyer

How often do you disagree with your spouse when it comes to parenting issues? How do you handle it? Do you voice your opinion in front of the kids or wait until later when you and your spouse are alone?

I know some responses depend on the situation, but in a recent conversation with a friend I realized how important a united parental front can be. The person shared with me that when one parent feels isolated, without the support of their spouse, they are more likely to disengage from parenting. The person put it: “When you feel everyone is out to get you, you really don’t want to participate in the family and it makes setting limits and boundaries for the kids all the more difficult.”

Food for thought. Do I back my spouse up or do I tear him down in front of the kids?

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Parenting Teens: staying close means time with Dad.

by Jennifer Dyer

Ever seen a parent who has a great relationship with their teen son or daughter? Did you wonder how they did it? From the days of my own youth, to the times I spent as youth group leaders, and during my journey as a mother, I have observed parents and their teens to understand some of this for myself. The other day on our www.momlifetoday.com Facebook party, some of the moms said they wanted more blogs dedicated to parenting teens, so I will share some of what I learned.

I want to preface this by saying that some of the greatest parents in the world can turn out a rebellious child. For the most powerful example look at God—He is a perfect parent, yet … humans manage to be pretty stubborn and rebellious, do they not? So, that being said, some children choose to rebel despite their parents. My goal as a parent is to do the best I can and live with no regrets.

One of the methods I have used to investigate parenting teens well is to ask teens themselves what they need. I cannot tell you how many girls mentioned time spent with their fathers. I know for some families Dad is absent, so perhaps another trusted male like a grandfather can help with this. Girls want to know they matter, they want to know they are special, and they want affirmation from Dad. I remember from my own childhood running  to show my dad a new dress and wanting him to tell me I looked pretty. Mom was great, but Dad was … somehow tied to how I felt about myself.

So, here are some ways Dad can show he cares:

Dates with daughter. One teen I know has a family with half a dozen girls, so this is a challenge. But she remembers almost all of her dates with her dad. Part of what made it special was that he would ask ahead of time, plan it out, and pick things they both enjoyed. It didn’t sound like any of the dates were fancy or expensive, but the girl’s face lit up when she recalled different evenings. Getting hot dogs, pizza, seeing a movie, going ice skating… The options are huge, but it all boils down to time and intention. Dad’s intent was to make her feel special and to spend time getting to know her.

Family Fun Nights: This can look different, but the entire family should be present (mentally and physically) and doing something that requires interaction. Yes, movies can be fun, but try also playing games, going bowling, taking a walk, making dinner together, doing a service project together. Anything that requires intentional time interacting. The kids might whine about it, but they will probably recall those nights often as they mature. Our family often played the board game Clue. My husband is still fascinated by how seriously we take our Clue games…

Interviewing her dates: There is a good book by Dennis Rainey on this topic, so I will let him give you the finer points, but the main focus here is interest. Take an interest in her dating life. Take the time to let boys know how special she is to you, and that you take your job to protect her seriously. This even starts at a young age. The other day I saw some of our third graders playing around and one of the boys tackled my friend’s daughter. I said, “Oh, her daddy will not be happy to see you tackling her like that.” That boy moved so fast you would have thought a snake bit him. The girl had a wistful smile on her face: she knew she was treasured by Daddy. Dads are powerful and they can go a long way to protect their daughter’s purity along with her desire to respect herself.

Affirmation: Take an interest in your daughter. A girl does not need constant condemnation from Dad. She needs affirmation. I’ve heard from girls who are so hurt when Dad constantly harps on their weight or other attributes about themselves.  They grow tired of trying (unsuccessfully) to please dad and give up. This may mean gaining more weight instead of losing it, letting grades slip more, and even becoming seriously involved with boys to gain male approval and love.

Moms: We’re just as important in other ways, but give Dad some props for all he does. More tomorrow…

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