Especially once the kids get into high school, there will be tons of things you will see them doing wrong. From not waking up to their alarm to the way they handle social relationships, you will find yourself wanting to just tell them exactly what to do. But often this will just cause them to reject your directions. And it’s generally agreed that one of the best ways to learn is by making your own mistakes. But what types of issues and mistakes are worth worrying about?
My wife and I found the most effective approach during teen years is to give “advice”, in most cases, versus mandates. And you really have to be careful to make sure your words come across as advice and not direction. The kids can choose to take the advice or not. If they don’t, but later realize the advice was good, then they might start taking the advice more and more. Just don’t expect them to let you know this or to thank you for the advice. And also never go for the “I told you so” approach.
What’s Worth Worrying About?
Once you kid is a teenager, there will be tons of things they do that annoy or upset you. But if all of those actions receive the same scolding or punishment, the risks are much higher that the teen mostly tunes the parent out or just prepares themselves to get disapproving reactions all the time.
My wife and I developed an approach of listing out the 3-5 things we most worried about. The items on the list change between the young teenage years and the late high school years. Things like being able to drive a car, go to parties, get into serious relationships, and the like, introduce new levels of bad things that could happen.
If the teenager wears a dirty shirt to school, watches a late night movie with friends with the volume really loud, or keeps their room cluttered, is that worth admonishing at the same level as getting drunk while driving a car and crashing into a ditch, committing a serious criminal act, experimenting with hard drugs, or having unprotected sex?
Most times the best approach is to just bite your lip and either ignore or let things play out. In other words, pick your battles. It’s not that you aren’t allowed to say anything about the more minor annoyances. Rather, those can be messaged in a different way. For example, a sentence that starts with “I would greatly appreciate it if . . .” or “It would be really nice if . . .”
Each year, review and adjust your short list, if necessary, as your teenager gets older. There will be a day when they leave the nest and have to make every tactical and strategic decision on their own.
See my other blog posts on parenting here.