Everything we do as a parent makes an impact…even when it seems like nothing we’re saying is making a difference. (Unknown)
As a life coach, parents ask, what should I be doing with my teenager. I begin by telling them that they are their teenagers biggest role model, and although our teenagers outwardly appear to be mortified and embarrassed by us, they are so happy when we show interest in what they are doing and what is important to them.
One thing a parent can do is go into your teenager’s room when they are there, and look around. You see something, a book, a magazine, or hear the music or podcast they are listening to. Ask questions about what you see in their room. See what your teenager’s latest passion is. Enjoy the mess of the room, and take a moment to be thankful for your teenager. All too fast your teenager will be out the door onto their life, and the time at home will be visits marked by college holidays or time off from work. It seems that is so far in the future, but once your teenager is in high school the years quicken in pace and college visits and applications sneak right up on you.
Get to know your teenagers friends. Have them over to your house. Spend time with them. Take your teenager and their friends out to eat, not the drive thru but a sit down restaurant where you can all have a conversation. Your teenager’s friends will shape your teen’s future. So take the time to get to invest in them and get to know them. Being the house where all the teenagers want to hang out is not a bad thing. It gives you, the parent, the home field advantage. You get to be a parent and mentor to a much larger group of teenagers and how fortunate is that? To be the parent that teens want to talk with and be around.
Show up! That sounds so easy to do, but in adult work life, it can become chaotic and often difficult to show up. However, I tell parents to make a plan to show up to their teenager’s game, play, awards ceremony, class project presentation. Anytime you have the opportunity to watch and see what your teenager has been working so hard on, it is worth creating the time. You may not be able to make the entire football game or swim meet but plan to show up for a portion of the game. Afterwards, provide encouragement to your teenager. I emphasize – provide encouragement. You are not the coach or the teacher. Be the parent. Your teenager has a coach, a teacher, that will provide feedback from the game or the project that they turned in. At this moment, your role is to be your teenager’s private cheerleader. I don’t mean to give false encouragement. If the game went badly and your teen’s team lost, the question may be “what do you think happened?” Do not provide criticism and how to do it better. Your teenager already feels bad enough that they lost or did not perform to the best of their or the team’s ability.
Give your teenager the opportunity to find their own way. The best teacher is often experience, and there are times that your teenager has to learn through experience the hard way. Watching our children fail or in pain is one of the most difficult things in the world. They want some space and freedom without always worrying about what their parents are going to say or think. I know as a parent, you want to rush in and solve the problem, or give them your wisdom on how to do something so that your teenager does it to the standard that you as their parent want. There is more than one way to accomplish something that will end with the correct or desired outcome. However, racing in and providing the solution, or doing their project takes away from building your teenager’s own self-esteem and confidence. It is also very deflating and does not encourage intrinsic motivation by allowing your teenager the sense of accomplishment and self discovery. Let your teenager have the opportunity to grow through failure. Your role as a parent when your teenager is confronted with failure is to champion their positive attributes and be the adult who listens and helps your teenager discover why what they did failed.
An easy, quick opportunity to be with your teenager, even when you are not is to provide an inspirational quote. An index card with an inspirational quote from your teenager’s favorite athlete or role model taped onto the door that they go out of everyday on their way to school. It is a subtle way of letting your teenager know that you are thinking of them but it also provides intrinsic motivation. The simple idea of an inspirational quote for your teenager to read as they walk out the door can provide the opportunity for some self-reflection and may be the push they need to focus on the positive for the day.
One last thing a parent can do with their teenager is laugh and have fun. Laugh at yourself. Laugh together. Create the opportunity for fun. Take a moment to stop being that adult, to be working at creating the perfect teenager or perfect life and just have fun. Perhaps it is dancing with your teenager or watching funny youtube videos, but whatever it is, just remember to laugh.