From the desk of Tammy Hayes, Middle School Principal:
In raising teenagers, there is a constant tension between loving them to pieces (because you know your days are limited) and wanting to pull their ears right off their heads. Over the years of teaching and supervising young people, I’ve observed many parents and educators who have balanced this beautifully, and sadly I’ve seen some who haven’t. What I’m constantly reminded of is that when it comes to the years between 11 and 20, it is best to adopt the belief that their shenanigans are not intentional and they are definitely not directed at you. I get this from a few amazing teachers and parents whom I’ve had the privilege of watching “love students through puberty” by responding to them with calm in the midst of chaos. There are a few small things that I have come to see are really big decisions that have a huge affect on the hearts of teens when trying to redirect them toward maturity. After all, that really is the primary objective of parenting: preparing our children to be successful adults. Here is the list of “biggie” decisions I believe make a difference when dealing with your teen in times when they fail to make a good choice, and sometimes, seem like they don’t care:
#1-Never act shocked by what you hear!
Somehow, certain leaders/parents are able to remove all emotion from their face when they hear the hard stuff. They must have decided ahead of time to do this or be great candidates for Texas Hold ‘Em! Nevertheless, I can honestly say that one time when I missed this with my eldest, it had a drastic affect on our relationship for many years. His take-away was, “Whoa, Mom can’t handle the truth! I better not be so honest next time!” Believe me, you want them to trust you enough to tell you their stuff! So, my take-away was get a Mona Lisa smile. It’s just enough to be pleasant without looking joyful or judgmental. And besides the smile, do whatever it takes to not say one word for at least a minute. Then proceed with caution and follow #2.
#2-Direct your conversation in a way that is more “student-centered” and not self-directed.
For example, instead of asking questions or making statements like, “What were you thinking?” “How could you do this to me? “Do you know how much we sacrifice for you?” and “Good Lord child, You are embarrassing us!” While all of these may be accurate, they only shift the focus away from the real issue. When your teen is caught in a rebellious situation, he needs to self-evaluate and consider his next steps. He needs to think long and hard about what is driving his behavior, and come up with answers that give new direction. Asking questions like, “Can you pinpoint where you started making the wrong decision in this situation,” “Do you feel like you are prone to follow instead of lead when you are with this group of kids,” and “What would you do differently if you had it to do over” can better lead teenagers to evaluate their own actions and give them a sense of empowerment needed for the future.
#3-Follow up with the same genuine acceptance and love you showed before receiving the difficult news, instead of judgment or disappointment.
Teachers and parents who have the most success with teenagers learn that students are “in process,” therefore are not shocked or angered by students struggling through life. They expect it as a natural part of puberty. They are poised for it, waiting for those opportunities to arise so that they may lovingly coach young people right through them . Therefore, when your teen fails, the next time you see them whether in public or private, embrace their fallen countenance with the same joyful expression you did before the “big mistake.” It goes a long way for mending the broken heart and giving teens hope. It also removes their natural fear that you will now be perpetually “mad at them.” Loving them through it is sometimes difficult because you are mad at them or disappointed in their choices. This is where the emotional work comes in for us, parent or leader, because if we describe it as “being mad at them” we are making it about us and not about them. Therein is the crux of the change needed in helping them solve their problems. Anger is an interrupter to intimate relationship. If we can remove the anger, it makes it easier for teens to hear us.
This is what we are trying to instill at Brook Hill! The parents and educators that I have seen time and again enjoying the best relationships with teenagers they live life with are the ones who have adopted these principles to live by when helping them maneuver through the rough spots. They definitely recognize in an instant that it’s not personal; it’s puberty!
What other advice do you have, parents?