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Staying involved with our busy teenagers

Staying involved with our busy teenagers

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How to stay involved with your busy teenagers

Got teenagers?

We have two teens, going on four in the next few years. But my husband and I have been hanging out with and mentoring teenagers through a ministry called Young Life way before we had our own.

For the past 25 years, we have walked (and adventured and hiked) alongside hundreds of teenagers and they've taught us a few things.

Parenting tips inspired by teens

"I wish my parents gave me a curfew."

"I wish my parents asked me what I was up to last night."

"We hardly ever eat dinner around the table together."

So we learned some important things about parenting teenagers even before we had our own. 

SPOILER ALERT: We are NOT perfect parents. We do not get it right all of the time.

Honestly, we're basically aiming for 80% success rate around here with our parenting efforts, knowing we're gonna screw up sometimes.

Take for example this recent text my sister sent me:

"Parenting fail #4563: When you lose your car keys and partially blame your teenage son because you can't find them ANYWHERE. Two weeks later, you slip on your puffy vest and discover the keys in the right-hand pocket."

I love what Jen Hatmaker says about parenthood in her book Of Mess and Moxie:

"We may rack up some negative numbers for a spell or lose ground during the preschool years or that one horrible junior year. But victory isn't compromised by individual losses; it is the result of slogging it out season by season, conversation by conversation, over months and miles of sweat and blood, and the cumulative total of more wins than losses secures the role, anchors the majority, makes the history books." - Jen Hatmaker


The kids are gonna be alright.

You are a good parent. You are amazing.

Your kids know they are loved. I know that because you are reading this, chewing it over.

May the tips we've gathered across the years serve as reminders to you and to me that we will raise our teenagers, and we will raise them well.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and in many ways it just skims the tip of the iceberg. But here we go...

Advice for parenting today's teenagers:

1. Spend one-one time with them

May it be run to the 7-11 for a big ole' Slurpie, a Starbucks date, or an impromptu lunch at Chik-Fil-A with your hungry teenager, make these moments happen. Especially when they ask for them. You'll be glad you did, and most likely you'll learn something new about them and their world.

2. Be ready to listen to them when they want to talk

"Hey mom?"

This is your cue to drop everything, your i-phone included, and listen. 

I screw this up A LOT, often while multi-tasking in the kitchen or playing slave to my phone. Suddenly, the "Nevermind" is uttered, and I put down whatever I'm doing before they walk away, look them in the eye and say, "I'm listening. Sorry, please say that last sentence again."

3. Know their likes and dislikes

My teenage son likes pizza, but gags on casseroles. He likes hugs, but not long ones.

My teenage daughter dislikes V-necks and tags in her shirts. She loves ripped jeans and Bohemian tops.

So, I don't make casseroles as much as I like. And I hunt for flowing, flowery shirts when I'm shopping with my daughter. You get the picture.


4. Encourage your teenagers

Nudge even. Sensing they're sitting on the fence about a class choice, or club activity, it's totally ok to push your kids a little to sign up for Student Council, or whatever it may be that you especially know it'll be good or fun for them.

Nudging shows your FOR YOU stance with your teenagers. You believe in them.

5. Help them navigate the tumultous teenage years 

We were all teenagers once. Share your teenage stories when appropriate. Say what you wish you could have told your teenage self back then. 

Stay tuned in to what's going on with their friends, schoolwork, sports, and extracurricular activities. Be available to listen, give advice, and help steer them in the right direction, away from all those precipitous cliffs that arise in the adolescent years. 

6. Make family dinners a priority

We have four kids involved in different sports, so I know family meals where everyone is present is no small feat.

Do the best you can. Change dinner time so it's earlier or later, or aim for 4-5 dinners together each week.

Family meal times are a perfect time for each person to share their hi-lows for the day. Then, you can celebrate their victories ("I got an A on my Algebra test!") and learn about their struggles ("So-and-so gave me the cold shoulder today"). 


7. Cheer them on

You guys, we drag our entire family to each kids' sporting events as often as we can. We believe it's important for us to all be cheering each other on, whether that's choir concerts or volleyball matches. 

We are each other's biggest cheerleaders and the plan is to be for life.

And we've learned over time that the best first words to say to them after they've walked off the field, court, or stage is "I loved watching you play." No play-by-play critique, no battering of the coach or other teammates, just sincerely stating "I loved watching you play."

8. Allow feelings

In their book Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School, David and Kelli Pritchard shared one tip I'll never forget. It goes something like this:

Whether your teen accomplishes something big, like the winning goal at championship soccer match, or they flunk a big final, give them a 24-hour window to revel and celebrate or sulk around the house, depending on the incident, before the bragging and gloating gets old or its time to pick themselves up off the floor and try again.


9. Give your kids a way out with the X-plan

My friend tipped me off to this genius idea.

I just went over the X-plan with my oldest teenager yesterday:

"By the way, if you're ever in a sticky situation where you get that gross feeling in your stomach and you know you just need to leave, text me or your dad 'X' okay? Then, I'll call you and say I need to come get you right away. Doesn't matter where you are, who you're with, what time it is, or what you're doing. I'll be there."

When your teenager texts you a simple "X", your quick phone call will sound something like this:


“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I’m on my way.”

- excerpt from X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)

Talk about this with your teenager right now. You won't regret it.

10. Speak blessing over them

I gleaned this tip from Michelle Anthony's book Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today's Families. If you're a family of faith, you might like this book.

As your kids and teenagers go to sleep, lean over them and speak words of encouragement and special qualities you see in them.

Turn it in to a prayer if you like, or look in them in the eye while you say it. These blessings speak volumes to their hearts.

11. Let them question

Our teenager's brains are forming by the minute, but they won't be fully developed until the age of 25. They have a lot they are wrestling with regarding life and faith.

While we share our own adult beliefs and try to pass on what we know to be true to our kids, we also encourage questions and listen to our teenagers' doubts. This goes hand-in-hand with encouraging the search for knowledge and truth with us at their side. 

Don't let those doubts and questions just hang there or float away. Enter into the truth-finding with them.

12. Teach your kids about money

Whether you're modeling good or bad money habits, please talk with your teens, and learn alongside them if need be, about how to win when it comes to handling finances. 

My go-to book right now for this is Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruz's book Smart Money Smart Kids. This book covers working, spending, saving, giving, budgeting, debt, college, contentment, and more.


13. Take adventures together

Recess, adventure, discovery, you name it.

If you know us, you know we are big on creating lots of memories around here. We love big adventures, road trips, and playing together on beaches, in the mountains, within national parks, and more. 

Needing fresh ideas? Grab our 20 Adventurous Family Vacations eBooklet here.

14. Let consequences teach them, but model grace too

I don't have time to unravel this all here, but in a nutshell, we believe appropriate consequences to our actions guide us in future choice-making.

For example, our teen spends too much time on his phone instead of studying for his test. If he scores poorly, we ask him to hand over his phone for a while.

We are known to share grace too, offering our teens a second chance to try again before a consequence is handed out.

You know your kids. Trust your gut to know which is needed each time.

15. Say I'm sorry

I'm talking to you parents.

Parents have bad days too, and sometimes we snap.

I've been know to say "I'm sorry," and "Will you forgive me?" on a weekly basis.

Model humility and ask for forgiveness, and I'm sure the good parenting moments will far outweigh the bad ones.


16. Follow your teen's social media accounts

My husband and I believe in helping our kids navigate today's techie world, and this includes social media accounts.

Whether you love it or hate it, social media isn't going away any time soon. So let them have one when you think they're ready, make it private, follow their accounts, know their passwords (required in our home!) and have regular conversations with them about their activity.

I know it's exhausting to stay up with everything, but you'll be so glad you did!

17. Stay in the know about teenage culture

As a family of faith, we glean a lot from a weekly email called The Culture Translator.

I may not agree with every single little thing they say, but I appreciate their knack for helping me stay in the know about pop culture, technology, and media trends that are most likely influencing our teenagers.


18. Be supportive of other mentors in their lives

You know the saying... It takes a village.

Grateful for a Young Life leader who stepped into my life during the rocky teenage years, I am a fan of a same-gender mentors in teenagers' lives. My two teenagers just happen to have their own Young Life leaders taking them out to coffee or SmashBurger, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Another adult, that I fully trust, who will speak similar words of wisdom and affirmation into my teenagers' lives is pure solid gold.

Grandparents, aunts and uncles, youth leaders, can all step into that role too. Just be sure you get to know them too.

19. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions

The obvious ones like "Where are you going? Who will be there? What are you doing? When will you be home?" Even if they roll your eyes, trust me, they want you to know.

Ask questions of other parents you admire who've survived the teenage years seemingly well. Take them out to dinner. Learn their tricks.

Finally, ask yourself "What is one thing I'm doing well in parenting my teenagers? What is one thing I could work on?" 

20. Hug your teenagers a bunch

They need your love. Even if they're stiff as board, hug 'em anyway. Sneak in a smooch on the cheek. The power of touch is a miraculous thing.

And tell them you love them everyday. You'll both be glad you did. 

What tips do you have for parenting teenagers. What has worked well for you and what books or resources have you enjoyed? 

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