Adolescence is one of the most interesting, emotional and dangerous times in a child’s life. Building the bridge between childhood and young adulthood can be an unwelcome interruption for the parent/child relationship. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Mutual respect is a must. With all the changing moods, hormone levels, body changes, etc., adolescents are more keenly aware of their physical presence, and relatively unsure of their emotional state. Often, boys tends to “clam up” around their parents, and girls, while they may also “clam up”, will exhibit more emotional fluctuations than before.
Trying to talk to your teen during this time may seem like fighting a losing battle. But,don’t lose hope. Conversations can be had, without the eye rolling that comes from your teen when they think another lecture is on the way.
It’s a matter of using the right approach. Let’s use landing a plane as an analogy. If you want to land successfully on the runway, you need to use your line of sight, your instruments, and the help of the people in the tower to guide you in safely. No one would want to try and land a plane while flying blindly. You shouldn’t try to parent a teen that way, either.
Using your line of sight
You’ve flown in this plane once before as a passenger — you’ve been a teen. You know how easy or difficult it was to talk to your parents, how much you were able to stay on the fray of trouble or get yourself mixed right up in it, and how you thought you were the king/queen of your own universe or an outcast in someone else’s. These are just a few examples of the experiential data that you have to share with your teen.
But, how do you share that information without scandal (if there are a few colorful experiences from your teen years) or, on the other hand, without laying on the expectation of perfection (as if you were the perfect teen)?
That’s a struggle we all wrestle with in talking to our teens. And, in today’s mostly a-moral society, trying not to sound like a hypocrite in your own head because you wish to spare your child from the mistakes you made in the past, and/or trying not to stifle their freedom because you fear what they may encounter, can be a tough line to walk.
Our experiences, when presented in a positive light, can be extremely helpful to our children. For instance, in helping them avoid the top two moral pitfalls, sex and drugs, we don’t have to tell our children the scandalous details of our past if there should be any. We can offer examples, stories, scenarios from that time in our lives to illustrate our understanding, the fact that we have walked in their shoes before them.
Using your instruments
There are several instruments at our disposal that are vital to help us guide our children during this time in their lives. The first and most powerful instrument we can use is prayer. Of course, we should be praying to our children’s guardian angels and patron saints from the time of their birth. But especially at this time, when they are spreading their wings and testing the waters of “leave and cleave”, we should necessarily step up those prayers. We need to pray for ourselves, to be a beacon of light, an example to follow, and a source of wisdom that they can not only respect, but also approach in their need. And, we must pray for them to be prayerful, holy and good during this time. We want to encourage, not force, them to pray for their ability to navigate this period in their lives well, to listen carefully to their conscience and to be strong in their convictions and resilient when the reactions from others seem like rejection.
There are many other resources available to help Catholic parents raise their teens to be good and holy people. Books have been written by respectable and responsible sources (see resource list at the bottom of this post). The internet allows you to search out parenting tips, guides to teaching virtue to your children and how to talk to your teens without argument or creating a spirit of defiance.
And, finally, practice what you preach. If you want your child to develop healthy habits that will grow into virtuous behavior through their teen years, show them how to do it. Be prayerful, speak respectfully, show them how to behave when someone hurts you, laugh when you feel like screaming, discipline with love, and be available to talk. We always seem to be so busy, dividing our time between responsibilities, that sometimes we forget that our first and greatest responsibility is our own domestic Church.
Help from the Control Tower
We don’t parent in a vacuum. Hopefully, we have friends that we can talk to about our issues, people we trust to hear our joys and frustrations without the risk of damaging our child’s or our family’s reputation. Call on those friends. Often, we can use the wisdom of someone who has made this journey through adolescence with their children already. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to our concerns and give us comfort or validation. Wise friends are always an asset.
When we do handle a situation without the best attitude, or give a poor example to our teens — it happens on a daily basis around here — we have the Sacrament of Confession to help us move forward. Grace is a powerful weapon against the evils present in our society. Avail yourself of this grace by bringing yourself humbly to the Lord to ask for His forgiveness and guidance. This is one of the most important behaviors you can display to your teen, a humble reliance on the Sacraments.
Remember the beautiful quote from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (emphasis added)
This is where a parent’s heart needs to be when dealing with a teen. It’s not always easy, but it is extremely important. Let your spouse, your friends, support groups be your sounding board for frustration; let your teen know how much you love them.
We must try to engage our children in critical thinking about what is good and bad in the world around them. We have to give them the support and the information they need to make difficult decisions. And, all the while, we must love them through this growing stage, trying to keep our sanity intact. If you use the resources available to your best advantage, raising teens can be a fruitful and exciting time that ends with a smooth landing. All things are possible with God, including this!
The list below represents a small sampling of what is available:
Resource for books
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers
The Temperament God Gave You
Raising Pure Teens
Theology of the Body for Teens
Resource for Parenting Links
Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Parenting Links