What Can We Do to Help Our Teens?


photo credit: Stephan Geyer via photopin cc

This month, we are celebrating the four years since the release of our book Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. In that time, I’ve been interviewed on multiple occasions over what can be done to empower teens today. Here are three of the biggest questions both parents and teachers ask today about helping our teens mature into adults:

1. What are the most common mistakes that can truly harm a teen’s development?

I’ve noticed eight damaging teaching and parenting styles today. Three big ones are:

a. The Karaoke Parent – The ones who try to sound, look, dress and act like their child. They want to remain a buddy to their kid, but fail to offer clear leadership in the home.

b. The Helicopter Parent – The ones who hover over their child. They work to pave the way for their kid’s future. Sadly, their kid never learns to persevere and cope with failure.

c. The Dry Cleaner Parent – The ones who drop their kid off to a professional like dirty clothes. They acquiesce their top priority—to mentor their child and help them grow.

We must remember teens need a balanced environment that’s both responsive and demanding. To be responsive means we’re understanding, accepting of their unique style, and supportive of their growth. To be demanding means we raise the standard of behavior and call on them to become the best version of themselves they can be. Too much responsiveness without demands weakens them; too many demands without responsiveness softens them, leaving them ill-prepared for life after graduation. Parents must balance both of these and change styles and messages as children age. At first, they need to hear, “You are special and loved.” As teens, they may need to hear, “It’s not about you. You’re part of something more important than just you.”

2. Teens may act like they don’t particularly want attention during this awkward, socially challenging time of life. But would you agree that this stage may require kid gloves and attention more so than even the newborn stage? Please comment.

Absolutely, but it may be a different kind of attention during their adolescence. They need parents to act (not merely react) to their over-confidence, self-absorption or independence.

All the damaging parent styles above usually lead parents to commit unintended transgressions in their homes. They unwittingly lie to their children, sending wrong messages to their teen such as, “You can do anything you want,” “You’re the best,” or “You’re a winner.” These are natural clichés that work when kids are young, but not so much when kids become adolescents. Teens are savvy and know better. They recognize that peers and other adults don’t send them the same messages. They stop really believing mom or dad. Sometimes, parents need to affirm specific gifts they spot in their teen; other times, they need to remain quiet. It’s beneficial to choose your words and times you give attention.

What I try to remember with my 21-year old son is that, in every situation, he needs me to give him a balance of three things:

  1. Autonomy – Giving him the car keys and allowing him the freedom to be on his own.
  2. Responsibility – Requiring him to fill the gas tank and return home before curfew.
  3. Information – Providing information pertaining to his best interests, no more or less.

3. If you could say one thing to the parents who are ready to give up because they feel like their advice and concern is falling on the deaf ears of teens, what would it be?

My advice would be—don’t give up, and don’t take the journey alone. The smartest parenting decision I made with my two teens was inviting one-day mentors into their lives when my kids turned 13. When Bethany was in eighth grade, I asked six women to spend a day with her and share one life message that they wish someone had shared with them as a teen. My daughter met with women she admired as “cool” and that I respected as great role models. They took her to work, did projects together, and had meals with her. It was revolutionary. Their voices echoed messages I was sending, but she listened to them. As you know, your voice’s clout often diminishes with your teen, yet the clout of other’s voices often increases. With this mentor project, you’re simply inviting other voices into the journey. (The details of this experience can be found in my book Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.)

What do you think? What else can we do to help our teens?

What Can We Do to Help Our Teens?