Billy is 13. He’s insecure and his greatest desire in life is to fit in. He used to feel free to be himself, but now, he’s sensing that he doesn’t always think and act like everyone else. He’s afraid of being teased, disliked, or worst of all, ostracized. He knows right from wrong, but peer pressure is strong, and belonging is everything. Now, more than ever, he needs a role model who helps him stay true to his convictions.
You might remember being 13 once. Or maybe you are raising teenagers now. If so, you’ve noticed that you are no longer their central focus. Their attention has shifted to their peer group. Where your opinion meant everything before, it is now usurped by the opinions of school mates, teammates, and social groups. If this is your first teenager, it can be alarming, but rest assured, it is perfectly natural.
This doesn’t mean, however, that it is time to back off and relinquish control. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Now, more than ever, your kids need you to stay strong as a consistent and positive role model in their lives. How can you do that when you feel like they are drifting away?
I recommend the following steps:
- Do not waiver from your beliefs, values and standards. This isn’t the time to become “cool” or act like your kids’ friends. You are not their friends; you are their parents. It is less important that they like you than that they respect you. So what if they think you’re boring because you don’t throw alcohol-infused parties at the house? Who cares if they think you’re a nerd because you insist they focus on their education? What matters is that you continue to hold yourself – and them – to the foundational beliefs and values that are most important to you as a family.
- If you are a faith-based family, continue to go to church and pray together. As kids age, they tend to balk at going to church. They question its value. They prefer to sleep in. They will use every argument under the sun to persuade you that they need a day off. If you’ve been a churchgoing family for years, you can simply assert that this is what you do as a family and you have no intention of stopping any time soon. It is an expectation that reflects your standards, just as you expect them to speak to you respectfully or visit their grandparents. Kids need prayer and a strong relationship with God especially during these years, when everything they’ve ever been taught is being tested. If you haven’t typically gone to church, that makes it more difficult but not impossible. Be real with your kids and tell them that you’ve discovered that churchgoing makes you stronger in your convictions, and you want the same for them. The best way to foster a growth mindset in your kids is to display one yourself.
- Introduce your kids to role models outside of yourselves. As you may have already discovered, when it comes to your teens’ opinions, you don’t know anything. Teens are less inclined, it seems, to take advice from their parents than anyone else. And while this can be hurtful and frustrating, you are not alone. It’s a natural part of discovering their independence for kids to separate themselves from their parents. Rather than fight that, provide them with resources and people you respect, and encourage them to consult with others who hold your same standards.
- Insist upon mutual respect. Welcome and promote questions and discussions. Show your kids that you are willing to listen to absolutely anything, as long as the delivery is kind and respectful. While you will insist on certain behaviors, let them know that you also value their input and will consider their requests, then allow them to have their way on issues that really don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. In other words, choose your battles. When your kids feel heard and are given a measure of freedom, they will be less likely to rebel.
Teenagers may not seem to notice or care about your actions or words, but they are taking in way more than you think. Pay attention to your language, your tone, and your actions because whether you realize it or not, they are.