February 27, 2014 —

Experts say that the strongest influencers of children are their parents. I can tell you from personal experience that while they’re in their teen years, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Between the rolling eyes, hunched shoulders and muttered sighs, teens are experts at clearly communicating the message that Parents Don’t Matter.

Don’t let them fool you for a moment. 

No matter how much resistance they give you, teens are listening. They may not like what you have to say all of the time, but they are listening. Adolescence is a time when children start deciding for themselves what they believe and how they want to live. Regardless of whether they admit it or not, parental guidance is the foundation upon which they start making these decisions.

There’s a Proverb which states that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. There’s most likely not a parent on the planet who would disagree. 

Teens in particular are prone to risky and foolish decisions, which is why they need parents. Especially concerning can be the temptations they face with regard to substance abuse. Whether it is alcohol, marijuana or even over-the-counter medications that are so easily abused, there are so many ways for teens to make mistakes and ruin their lives.

Having a close relationship with your teen is one of the best ways to help them through this time. Building those ties starts when they’re very young. Every time you do something together, you’re creating “strings” that link their hearts to yours. Something as simple as a meal together at the dinner table helps those feelings of closeness and trust grow.

One of my teen boys is very resistant to me. It doesn’t much matter what I say; chances are he’s going to disagree with it. The reaction is almost knee-jerk. I think some days that the fact that I’m breathing annoys him. Just yesterday he asked me if I had seen his boots. When I said no, and inquired if he’d looked in the van yet, he got angry and was very rude to me. I still have no idea why.

It’s moments like those that can cause a parent to feel pretty angry, let me tell you. Just quitting on him and going with a silent treatment for the next few years is also tempting. That’s not the best choice though. Instead, I’ve been reminding myself of some important principals:

  1. Emotion causes stress. If I address him with intensity, he shuts down completely. I’ve learned that taking the time to calm down and speak with no emotion helps him hear what I have to say. It’s also important to directly say that I’m not angry at him. Teens tend to read adults’ emotions inaccurately.
  2. Honesty is the best policy. Both Hubby and I have worked very hard over the years to be as honest with the boys as we can. Our track record of truth helps us now. We can point out that after so many years of truthfulness, it’s not rational to assume we’re lying now.
  3. Keep it brief. There are oh so many things I would love to help my son work out. When I’m upset with him, that list can come to mind quickly. It’s not going to help though, if I argue every issue we’ve ever had. I need to stick to the topic at hand, give him the necessary message (without emotion) and get out.
  4. Sometimes, it’s better to write a note. Writing down my message can help with removing emotions and getting us out of the power struggle before it even begins.
  5. High expectations are still okay. Just because I’m trying to be gentle with my boy doesn’t mean that I have to let him get away with poor choices or bad behavior. I told him in no uncertain terms that his rude behavior was unacceptable and that an apology will be required. Family members should be treated with at least as much courtesy as a stranger would.

If you’ve got a challenging teen, my heart goes out to you. I hope you take this note of encouragement though: he or she isn’t going to be this way forever. Hang in there. One day you’ll look around and suddenly there will be a reasonable adult where there was an irrational child, and all of the work you’ve done over the years will be worth it.

Amy LeForge is the mother of two sets of twin boys. After homeschooling for many years, the older ones are now attending public high school while the younger ones are still at home. The boys are frequently the cause of many great stories, some of which Amy is allowed to share on Earnest Parenting (which she has written/edited since 2007) and Facebook. Someday, she’ll write a tell-all book about her experiences, but for now recognizes that teen children aren’t really thrilled by that prospect. Amy is also active on Twitter and stays busy with way too many projects.