As parents of four young daughters, I can’t tell you how many times we heard this: “Oh, you might be enjoying them now, but just wait until they become teenagers. Then the nightmare begins.”
And sadly for many families and teens, the adolescent years are a nightmare, or at least very painful years for parents and their teens. Living in cross cultural spaces and reading history (also cross cultural in some ways) has convinced me that the teen years don’t have to be a nightmare. Why so many horror stories of parenting the teen years? Perhaps it’s because some cultures create a separate teen culture of irresponsibility, expect nothing but trouble from those adolescent years, and so the nightmares come just as prophesied and sometimes even worse than expected. Even to suggest that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way is to risk scorn and derision from those living out the predictable horrors of parenting teens. And for many, those years of adolescence can be very painful years for parents and for teens.
But this post is not about teens. They don’t read this blog, at least not many, I assume. This post is an encouragement for parents to be reflective, intentional parents rather than reactionary parents. It’s a suggestion that parents who are intentional about learning about themselves and their own parenting styles might actually learn during these “nightmare years” how to love their teens better and how to relate more lovingly in general. In other words, parents of adolescents have a lot to learn themselves, if they choose to reflect, debrief their parenting styles and choose to change… rather than making it their goal to protect themselves from pain and disappointment.
Parenting adolescents can get emotionally painful and it’s tempting for parents to react in ways that really have the goal of pain management for themselves. I read Kevin Huggins’ book Parenting Adolescents back in the 80s, long before I was a parent. It’s a great book because it addresses the parents’ need to change and parent intentionally and purposefully and reflectively. It’s really a book whose principles apply well in cross cultural spaces. This is some of what he has to say:
Parents tend to be non-reflective about their parenting styles; that is, they allow their way of relating to kids to be determined by internal and external forces of which they have little conscious awareness. Consequently, the parents’ underlying problems in thinking go unchallenged, and the resulting problems in relating go unchanged.
(Parenting Adolescents, p 95).
When parents do not reflect upon their motives and thought patterns in relating to their teens, they do not grow as parents. Huggins’ book is about helping the parents of teens grow in wisdom and put away foolishness. He urges parents to consider ways of relating to teens that promote wisdom rather than reinforcing foolish living and choices. Teenagers have a way of pushing parents’ buttons, and a reasonably wise woman can end up playing the fool as she relates to her teenage son or daughter. A capable man whose wisdom at work earns him promotions can be downright foolish when talking to his teen. When the teen succeeds in getting the parents to respond foolishly, then the nightmare just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?
And as Huggins points out, the relational style of many parents actually reinforces teen rebellion and foolishness, but those same parents refuse to reflect upon their own parenting failures. There is a lot of finger pointing and blaming, which is itself a kind of foolishness. In order to love their teens better, all parents will need to grow in their desire and ability to relate lovingly, rather than seeking to protect themselves from further pain and disappointment.
Huggins says all this and more, and he says it much better than I can.
For a brief but useful summary of Parenting Adolescents and another book by Paul Tripp Age of Opportunity, download (save this link) this pdf.
But if you’re really serious about parenting your teen well, I mean being a wise parent who reflects on his or her parental failures and successes and seeks to grow, then get the Huggins book and read it through. Read it through with some other parents. Encourage each other to grow wiser, reflect on parenting styles and learn better what it means to really love your teens.