Emily Trebolo is a former student of mine who has gone on to establish herself professionally. What impressed me about her when we talked recently is how fervently she believed in a parent’s capacity to meet the needs of their teenage children. So I asked her to write a piece about what those needs are and how the parents can meet them. Here’s what she said:
When they walk in the door you don’t know what to expect. It feels like you blinked and what once was your sweet little girl is now a fast moving ball of emotions. Some days your precious angel acts like the sweet child you raised. The next moment she is having a melt down and it is all your fault. Not only are you tired of the ups and downs, but also it seems like as soon as you figure out something she needs, the need switches. Sound familiar? If so, you must have arrived in the world of adolescents.
As a counselor at Christian Counseling Associates I work a lot with adolescents. I love having the opportunity to help navigate this challenging road for teens and also their parents. Through my adventures with these soon-to-be young adults, I have found a few recurring themes. In the emotional chaos, parents often want to know, “What in the world does my child really need from me?” I have found a pattern of three common things your adolescent needs, and typically has no idea how to ask you for it.
Need #1 – I need you to teach me that I am valuable
There is a very good chance that your teen is confused about what value is. It is contrary to everything they are observing in society to believe that value isn’t something based on what they do. Your precious one is valuable not because of what they do, or who at school likes them, but because God made them. Therefore, they need you to educate them on their own worth.
Value them. The question remains, how do you show value to someone who at times is driving you crazy. These are a couple of easy reminders of things you can do to convey that value is not based on the outer things. Your teen needs you to speak kind words to them. This may feel awkward, especially since many times it may feel like they blow you off. Don’t worry; they hear you. They really, really hear you. Not only that, but they crave those words from you. You know your teen more than anyone. You know their heart, and those little things they do that no one else may know about. They also need your actions to reinforce value. Even when you are so frustrated with your teen you are counting the minutes till they go to college, treat them in a manner that shows value. I recognize this can be very hard. But take courage, it can be done.
Notice them. This is not in reference to discipline, but rather catch them being precious. Look for teachable moments to point out their value. Write them a note and leave it under their door. Tell them you appreciate that they put their dishes in the sink after a meal. Make them a cup of hot tea and deliver it to them while they are studying. Tell them you are so proud of how hard they work in school. Give them hugs over and over again, even when they reject them. Attempt to sit on their bed for a few minutes and ask about their day. Tell them why you are proud of them. By noticing the little things about them you are showing them that they are worth noticing.
Hear them. I recently was conducting a session with an adolescent and her mother and asked the teen to tell her mom what it was she needed the most. She told her mother, “I need you to listen without preconceived ears.” Your child needs you to take the time to really listen to what they are saying. This shows them that their thoughts and feelings are valuable. Instead of coming up with a solution to their problem, focus on the way they are feeling as a result of the situation. They want to be known, and by hearing them you are telling them that they are worth knowing.
Need #2 – I need you to teach me about grace.
Believing the best about your teen can be a very challenging thing to do. Maybe they are doing all sorts of behaviors that not only make you angry and break your heart. I am not asking you to overlook bad behavior. Rather, I am asking that you be a parent who is obsessed with grace. That you would not only be consumed with knowing more of Christ, but that as a result of you fully knowing every day the grace has given you that you would pass along this legacy to your children. Dr. Tim Kimmel puts it well in his book Grace Based Parenting: “Grace does not lower the standard in our homes; it raises them.”
Be Quick to forgive. When your adolescent messes up, forgive them quickly. This does not mean you take away consequences for their actions; for they need disciple. But rather that when they goof, you would be quick to forgive them and not hold the offense against them. Don’t punish them out of anger but rather out of a desire to teach them.
Be quick to apologize. Lets face it; you are human too. And as much as you love your child, you will fail them. When this happens, be quick to forgive yourself and then ask them for forgiveness. This demonstrates grace to them on such an incredible level.
Cut them a little slack when you can. Recognize that this is a hard age. They are faced with pressures on every side. Some days there might be small offenses that it is better just to let go. If you know they have had a horrible teen-ish day and they forget to put the chips back in the pantry, maybe the most Christ-like thing you can do is put up their snack for them.
Need #3 – I need stability.
Perhaps your teen isn’t coming from an ideal family situation. That is okay. God is a God of healing and restoration. So you can trust Him with your child. If the home life hasn’t always been stable, it isn’t too late for change. Stability results in security for these adolescents. Therefore, attempt to create a home life that your teen can count on. This does not mean that life events aren’t going to happen; but rather that your teen knows how things will typically be handled in the home.
Your child needs routine. Even if they complain about a routine, they still need it. It helps your adolescent to know what to expect when they walk into the door. Be consistent in the way you care for them. If schedules are crazy, set aside a certain night a week that is family dinner night. Watch a certain television show together weekly. Create certain times that are family times each week, and then fight hard to protect those time slots.
Be consistent in the way you love them. Your teen needs to know that you will always love them and there is nothing they can do to change that. Even when they are exhausting you, make sure to constantly tell them you love them. Write it on notes, tell them when they walk out the door; reinforce this love as often as you can. Find out the little things that make your teen feel loved and then consistently do those things.
Be consistent in the way you punish them. Let the punishment fit the crime. There are many behaviors an adolescent can do that should always result in a consequence. If your teen is not respecting their curfew, then grounding them from going out one weekend is an appropriate consequence. If it happens again, the same consequence should be used. By only randomly punishing at certain times, your teen is not learning what behaviors are tolerable and which ones are not. Rather, they are learning that sometimes they can get away with deliberately disobeying. Also make sure that the punishment used is an appropriate one for the crime committed. Do not punish out of anger, but rather try to calmly teach your child about the wrongness of their actions and the consequence that results from the indiscretion.
It is no secret that the world of adolescents is confusing and exhausting. It takes a lot of bravery to attempt to give your teen what they need. So take courage, and go out there and show them that they are valuable, exemplify grace and try to create stability in the process. Remember: just as your teen needs grace you do as well. So go easy on yourself when you mess up, and know that your adolescent is blessed to have a parent that desires to love them well.
You can contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org