Viewing entries tagged
parenting teens

Present-Tense Parenting

You know one mistake I make as a mom?  I forget to live in the present moment with my kids.  I worry about what’s coming in the future, or I obsess about something from the past.  When I do this, I miss what they are really needing, what they are really communicating, and what is really happening.

Does that ever happen to you? 

When we practice fearful-future parenting or past-preoccupation parenting, we can’t practice present-tense parenting.  We don’t give our kids our best, and we often miss what they really need from us.  When we’re not parenting in the present tense, we end up thinking in rigid ways, like this:

 

Oh no!  My six-year-old is still in pull-ups at night!  What if he never gains control of his bladder?
This is future-tense parenting, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.  It’s normal to worry about the future—I can identify with that—but the problem is that you’re letting fear get the better of you.  Your son will be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, just as he learned to feed and dress himself.  I promise. (Unless something very unusual is going on, he won’t be in pull-ups when you send him off to college.)

When my nine-year-old was sick last week I let her stay home from school and watch movies.  Now she’s sick again. I’ve set up a bad pattern, so I’d better make today less fun.
This is past-tense parenting, and it’s also destructive.  There may be times that you see a genuine pattern that needs to be addressed.  If so, then by all means address it.  But don’t let one event in the past so overshadow what’s happening right now that you end up failing to nurture your daughter when she really needs it.

My mother-in-law says I should let my newborn “cry it out” when he wakes at night.  I don’t want him to develop bad sleep habits, so if I don’t nip it in the bid right now, he’ll be a bad sleeper his whole childhood.
Again, fear-based, future-tense parenting.  Babies aren’t able to manipulate.  They cry to communicate when they need something.  Your job is to meet those needs, right now.  If you worry too much about the future, you’ll deprive your baby of what he needs in this moment:  a mom who will be there for him anytime he tells her that he needs to be fed or held.

My thirteen-year-old forgot to turn in her Spanish homework last week, and now she’s turned in her math homework late.  I’ve got to cancel her dance class, since she needs to spend more time being responsible!
Again, there really is something to be said for nipping a problem in the bud.  But be careful not to overreact to a situation based on limited information.  If your normally responsible middle-schooler makes one mistake, that shouldn’t cloud your judgment about her any time she messes up again. 

My ten-year-old picks on his little sister.  She’s crying now, so her brother must be upsetting her again.
Past-tense parenting.  Even if your son is usually the instigator when sibling conflict arises, that doesn’t mean he’s the culprit every time.  If you march into the room and look at him and say, “What did you do this time?!” before you have all the information, you’re going to risk alienating him and damaging the trust in your relationship.

My seven-year-old cries wolf all the time, pretending to be hurt or sick when she’s not.  I need to teach her that that’s not the way to get my attention.
This one is a tough one for most parents.  After all, you don’t want to reinforce a pattern that makes life harder for you, your daughter, and the whole family.  Still, I always say to err on the side of nurturing too much, rather than too little.  Kids often go through this attention-seeking phase because they have a need for your attention.  And just because you are there for your daughter and connect when she needs (or just asks for) comfort, doesn’t mean that she’s going to seek attention in this way all the time.  In fact, you can’t spoil children by giving them emotional connection.  The more your daughter feels your love and constant affection, she’ll be quicker to move through this phase, and she’ll do so knowing that you’re on her side and have her back.  All because you were able to parent in the present tense.

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

My Teenager Won’t Hug Me Anymore

A mom wrote me recently, concerned that her fifteen-year-old son was pulling away from her, especially in terms of being affectionate and letting her do things for him.  This is a common occurrence in the lives of parents and kids.  This mother wondered, “How do you provide that same sense of security to your children as they start to break away from you?”  My response offered words of comfort and advice that might prove helpful if you’re experiencing something similar.

 

It’s totally normal.

This is what teenagers do.  What they’re supposed to do.  They pull away so they can figure out who they are without you.  Your child is becoming himself, which is what you want. 

 

This is an important step towards self-exploration.

Your son is creating new attachments to his peers that allow him to become ready to be a "we" with someone else in the future.  This shift in attachment—he’s still attached to you, but in a different way—allows him to take the secure base he has in his relationship with you, and use it as a launching pad to explore who he is apart from his family and in the context of his peers.  This process is a crucial stage in his identity formation. 

 

Find ways to connect, physically.

It’s still possible to be physically close with your son.  Take his cues and respect his journey into adulthood, while still letting him know how much you love him.  At times this may mean a simple pat on the back or the head, or an arm around his shoulder.  But even if it's a bit uncomfortable, try to keep hugging him when you can—even it’s the dreaded “side hug” that can feel so awkward. As much as possible, keep up the affection, and the connection.  You might even see whether he'd be willing to let you climb into bed next to him to read to him or have him read to you.  If not, get the laptop and watch some funny YouTube videos together.  You have to sit super close so you can both see the screen, and the laughter can create a shared moment of joining. 

 

Be thoughtful while also observing boundaries.

Don’t be corny, but come up with gestures that show him thoughtfulness and nurturing without treading on his independence.  Take him a Jamba Juice when you pick him up from school.  Text him about something you’re proud that he’s done.  Challenge him to a game of Ping-Pong.  Take him to dinner and a movie.  And when he's sick, baby him like you used to.   He’ll love it.

 

Sometimes you just can’t win.

One moment he’ll tell you to back off, then the next minute he’s mad that you’re showing attention to his younger sister.  It's very similar to his toddler years, when he’d say, "Me do it," and then get mad that you weren’t helping him.  He's in between two worlds and wants what he feels like he needs—but only when he thinks he needs it.  He wants to be treated like an independent adult, but secretly, he may have times when he just feels like being nurtured like a little kid.  The best thing you can do is to assume he still wants you to nurture him and be a mom, while also communicating that he can tell you to give him space if he feels smothered.

 

Be direct.

Since you’re not a mind-reader, initiate a direct conversation about your uncertainty about how to interact with him.  Talk about your desire to keep nurturing him and doing things for him, while still respecting his space and independence.  Explain that you know how capable he is, then ask for his guidance and advice on this issue.  If nothing else, he'll be aware that you’re trying. 

 

Back off, but be available. 

Self-sufficiency is so important, so you want to encourage it.  But you need to still be sending signals that say, "I'm always here for you if you need me."  Communicate this over and over, both verbally and nonverbally.  Then he’ll know it’s true, whether his actions show it or not.

  

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

 

 

Should You Spy on Your Teenager?

An essential part of parenting is keeping your kids safe and helping them make good decisions. Your strong instincts to protect your teens from making bad choices is what motivates you to check in with them and even call their friends’ parents to check to make sure they are being adequately supervised.  But what about spying?  Is that going too far?  It’s possible that your desire to protect may lead you to cross a line that can not only be harmful to your teenager, but also damage your relationship with them. So how do we act as conscientious, loving parents who responsibly watch over our kids, without becoming so overbearing that we cross that line and end up creating problems even bigger than the ones we’re trying to avoid?  Well, we can start by asking ourselves some basic questions:

 

What are my motives?

Ask yourself why you feel the need to spy.  Is it really necessarily?  Is your teenager in real danger?  If so, then there might actually be a need to monitor at least some of what they’re doing, so you can help them be safe.  But it’s a different story if your teen is actually a good, responsible kid.  Is there a chance that you’re being paranoid?  Maybe you made some mistakes in your youth, and you’re afraid that your teen will do the same.  It’s completely understandable that you’d want to protect your child from going down the wrong road.  But unless you’ve been given some legitimate reason that your child is in real danger, then you should think twice (or more) about secretly checking emails or reading journals.

 

Is spying worth the risk?

The benefit of spying on your teen is that you’ll be privy to information that might allow you to act before your teen makes a bad choice.  But the downside is that it can seriously erode trust.  You will lose trust in your teen when you find out things they’re not telling you.  But in my opinion, what’s even worse is that when they find out you’ve been spying on them, they’ll stop trusting you.  Spying is a violation of your trust in them, their trust in you, and of their privacy.  Once they feel violated and that they can’t trust you, they may stop talking to you about anything.  When the doors of communication get closed, it can take a long time to pry them back open.  Plus, spying may even fuel the fire, motivating your teen to participate in even more dangerous or devious behavior that they become better at hiding.

 

Are there alternatives to spying?

There really are better options that emphasize accountability and conversation, instead of secrecy and spying.  If you feel the need to be that vigilant, probably the best alternative is to be upfront about the fact that you’ll be keeping tabs on your kids.  Tell them that you’ll be monitoring their text messages and IMs and emails.  Also, explain that if they say they are going over to someone’s house, you’ll be calling to check in and make sure there’s parental supervision.  Tell them that you’ll be tracking the GPS or the speed-limit monitor in the car.  This way, they know that you’re checking up on them, but that you’re doing it with open dialogue and because you love them and want to keep them safe.  Then, when they don’t do what they’re supposed to, they know you know, and you two can talk about it without eroding the trust between you.

 

The science shows that teens will tell their parents more and ask permission more, instead of sneaking around, when they expect that their parents will be reasonable, listen to their point of view, and seriously consider what they’re asking permission for.

As parents, we need to remember that while it can be nerve-wracking for us, the autonomy our kids are working so hard to achieve is exactly what they’re supposed to be developing.  It’s ultimately what we want for them—for them to be their own individuals, with the ability to think for themselves and thrive on their own, and even have to deal with the consequences of their choices, with the support of their family.

So give your teenagers that support.  Be reasonable, and say “yes” when it’s appropriate.  Keep checking up on them, making sure that they’re safe and making good decisions.  Accountability is crucial for kids at this age.  But do it in a way that’s honest and that also protects your relationship and preserves the communication and trust between you

Teen Rebellion: How to Respond and Cope

Mark Twain is said to have advised that when a child turns 13, his parents should put him in a barrel, close the lid, and feed him through a hole in the side. Then, when he turns 16, plug up the hole. I offer this quote not to advocate incarceration or starvation as a healthy response to teen rebellion, but to help you see that you’re not alone. In fact, cross-cultural research shows that there are two universals when it comes to teens: spending less time with their parents (and more time with peers), and doing things differently from their parents (teen rebellion!).

The Teen Brain

cutting-edge science on the adolescent brain that helps shed some light on these questions. Let me give you two “teen brain facts,” and then we’ll talk about how to apply that knowledge, so you can make good parenting decisions that will strengthen your relationship with your teenager, and help them become the best person they can be.