Raising Teenagers: A Balancing Act


teenager on phoneIt usually starts the same way. The lipstick is too dark. That crop top is not appropriate for school (sometimes not even the living room). Those earbuds have to be removed before it becomes surgically necessary. He is not listening or following rules. She is rude to everyone who looks her way. The attitude, the rolled eyes, and the exasperated sighs must go before I am pushed over the edge. 

Sound familiar? You must be a parent to a teenager, too.

Raising teenagers, those lovely people in the range of 13-19 years of age, is no easy feat. This stage of development is full of changes — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The Cleveland Clinic describes adolescence as “the period of developmental transition between childhood and adulthood. It involves changes in personality, as well as in physical, intellectual and social development.”

On top of this, teenagers are faced with decisions that will affect their lives in the short and long term. They must study hard and plan for college or life after graduation while also learning to drive and how to just be a responsible adult in this world. That’s a lot of pressure for people whose brains are biologically incapable for making these kinds of decisions.

I read a book long ago that summed it up like this: Teenagers have bodies and brains that are rapidly developing and changing, yet parents and society expect them to be fully grown and mature. We set our teens – and ourselves – up for failure with these expectations.

We are warned of the dreaded teenage years. Our once sweet and adorable children will become moody, irritable, emotional, and challenging.

They will want to sleep all day and stay up at night.

They will eat all the food in your house yet always be hungry.

Their grades may tank along with their manners.

Parents are told to give them space but watch them like a hawk; to be their friend but also their drill sergeant; to guide them but also let them fail. So many contradictions.

The teenage years are bound to make you a little crazy and wondering, “How do I do this?”

I am not an expert and am still in the trenches of parenting teenagers to toddlers. But I do have one thing that helps me in raising my teenager: I find the balance.

Balance is key to life. There is a good and a bad; a dark and a light; an up and a down. You get my point. Parenting is no different, and finding the right balance of rules, equality, support, and understanding has helped me in so many ways.

Teenagers are caught in the middle of childhood and adulthood, so how I choose to parent my teenager is somewhere between these ages, too. Here’s what I try to keep in mind:

I pick my battles.

Do I need to yell about a messy bedroom every day or set a clear expectation for a weekly deep cleaning? There are arguments worth having – studying, being respectful, listening to directions and rules – but there are arguments that can be a simple discussion instead. I can let a smart remark slide every once in awhile, and I can remember that the moods and attitude are not always personal. Pick your battles.

I try to listen objectively and without judgment.

Before you say anything, I cannot do this all the time. I am a parent first, and in matters of safety and health, that comes before my child’s wishes. But I want her to come to me with questions and concerns, which means I have to be able to listen without jumping to anger or conclusions. I would rather have her ask me about things like sexuality, alcohol, or drugs than her friends. She will not trust me with everything, of course, but I want to be there if she does. 

I find common ground and use it.

I really love spending time with my daughter. We have shared interests in horror movies, coffee, politics, and music. If she wants to watch a movie with me or talk about current events in the news, I’m all for it. I make enough coffee for both of us or treat her to one when I can. For her birthday this month, we are going to a concert together because we both like the band. There are many days where we do not see eye to eye, so why not enjoy the moments and things we both like?

angel wings photo opI keep some perspective.

The unclean dishes in the sink, yet again, may seem world ending in the moment. The failed quiz or paper will affect a class grade. Missing curfew by a few minutes is not OK.

But is it as bad as I am making it? Can things be done to amend it?

My reactions are mine, and how I choose to handle mistakes and rash decisions are my own. I try to save my anger for the bigger moments (which are few and far between with this one, thankfully). Rules and expectations must be followed, but one tiny mistake does not make a bad child, right?

I think about how I felt as a teenager.

It was not so long ago! While times have changed, there are many things I can relate to with my daughter. She wants independence. She values her space and possessions. She wants to be treated as a smart and capable thinker. I remember wanting the same things. Teenagers must gain some of this through trust and example, but I try to put myself in her mind and to give her the space and freedom she craves and earns.

Raising children but particularly teenagers is all about the contradictions, so I find the balance. I can be a parent and a confidante. I can discipline but also teach. I can show disappointment and love at the same time. These years are fleeting, and parents only have so much time before their children are true adults in the real world.

I want to use these years to guide her and prepare her as much as I can; I also want to enjoy this time with her before she leaves my house. 

I’m not an expert, and tomorrow may be much more challenging than today. But for now, it’s all about the balance.

What is or was your experience with raising teenagers? Please share!


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