When learning the ropes of parenting babies, toddlers, or young children advice abounds.
I feel fortunate enough to have stumbled into the attachment parenting and peaceful parenting communities when my kids were still small. It was from these wells of information that I was able to draw out ideas and strategies that worked for our family.
But what happens when our kids become teenagers?
Many of us may be left feeling like we need some new parenting tools. And – unfortunately – resources for gently parenting our teens is scarce.
The only words on parenting teenagers that regularially pop up in my social media feed read something like this:
"I'm your parent, not your friend. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, and hunt you down when needed – because I love you."
And I do understand where this sentiment is coming from.
It's our inner mama bear, protecting our cubs the only way we know how. It's our instinct. We are here to keep our children safe, even when things get ugly. Even if we're protecting them from themselves.
I think they call that "tough love".
If so, let's call another option "gentle love".
My meme (if I made one) would read more like this:
"I am your parent and I am also your friend. I will listen to you, respect you, encourage you, empower you, accept you, and be your safe place in a confusing world. Because I love you. Unconditionally."
As we teeter on the brink of teendom over here I have been reflecting on what has changed since we began this journey some thirteen years ago. (And surprisingly, how very much has stayed the same.)
If anything I feel us circling back to the beginning once more.
Emotions are tender and riding close to the surface again, and I am reminded that my job is not to control my child's expression but control my reaction to it.
And also – importantly – to lead with consistent, unwavering, unconditional love.
Do you remember how you held space for your toddler, gently guiding them as the ventured out into the world for the first time? It turns out 13 and 3 have more in common than you might expect.
- When your child was small you stayed close enough for them to know you were there, but not so close as to limit their opportunity to explore and learn.
- When your child was small you gave them a confident, reassuring look when they pushed themselves, tackling new skills or facing their fears. That look said to your little one, "I believe in you and I'm right here. You've got this."
- When your child was small you let them struggle and work to master a goal. You let them stumble and fall, then get up and try again. You let them succeed by the power of their own efforts.
- When your child was small held them close when they were afraid and gave them space when they needed to go it alone.
- When your child was small you let them know you were here for them – any hour of the day or night.
And at the same time you also knew that there would be days when s**t was going to get real.
You knew that your child was learning and growing and that her life was changing so quickly that she wouldn't always be able to hold it together.
You knew that she was sometimes overwhelmed by the world, by her smallness, and by the dizzying ride of growing up.
The teen years? They're like this, too. And then some.
And just like when she was small your child still needs you by her side – gently and lovingly guiding her through.
As I look ahead to the coming decade-plus of parenting teens before me, I wrote down this list.
Ten ideas to remind me that peaceful parenting has no expiration date.
Ten reminders to parent as lovingly, gently, and effectively as I can while my child navigates these muddy waters between young child and confident adult.
Does every parenting strategy work for every family? Of course not. But this is my starting place as our teen years unfold.
If I re-write this post ten years from now there will certainly be points to add. But I can't imagine any of the ideas here being tossed aside.
I think if I asked my children what they needed and they could find the words, this is what they would say.
Ten Ways to Peacefully Parent your Teenager
How you speak to me today will become my inner voice tomorrow.
And as much as you need me to respect you (something I struggle with a lot these days), I need you to show me that I also deserve respect. Even when I screw up.
Because your respect of me translates into the self respect I will carry with me into adulthood.
Help me see that I am worthy of it.
See me as a person who deserves as much respect as you easily give adults.
And when I disrespect you, remind me of how I can do better. Remind me by showing me – by giving me – the respect I so deeply crave.
I need to make a real, meaningful contribution. Because I'm old enough to notice if my efforts don't matter and those feeling are reflected in my self-worth.
So give me work to do. Yes, I will grumble, but I'll stand taller when I see what I am capable of. And I'm capable of so much more than you may think.
Empower me also by handing over decisions to me. Decisions about my life, my future, my choices.
Help me find my power.
You have a lot you want to tell me. A lot you want me to understand.
But mostly I just need you to listen.
Listen without judgement to my fears, my feelings, my stories, and to the things I can't bring myself to say. Your presence tells me that you care and that you're here for me – always.
And when you listen to the everyday stuff I know you're also here to listen to the big, scary, hard-to-talk-about stuff.
Love me unconditionally.
There are times when I will act in a way that makes me seem unworthy of your love.
Love me anyway.
I need that message more than anything.
And if you seem like you want to spend time with me, all the better! Knowing that you love me and you like me would be a huge win right now. (Even if I don't tell you.)
Because right now I'm pushing limits in all directions. Stay clear on the truth that even when I screw up I am still worthy of your love. I need to know this now more than ever before.
Your trust in me is a strong and powerful message. When you show me trust I learn to trust myself. My inner voice. My heart.
That means I'll make good choices. Better choices. And I'll also gain confidence. (Which I very much need right now.)
Acknowledge how I've earned your trust whenever you can. I need to hear those words from you.
Connect when you could correct.
Yeah, I screwed up. (I bet you did when you were young, too.)
But when you punish me or shame me or put me down – when you focus only on how I messed up and let your down again – I only learn how to hide my mistakes from you. The next time I stumble I'll make sure you don't know.
The truth is, I don't need more correction right now. What I need more connection.
Validate my journey and help me see that I'm going to be okay. Hold this space with me. Make time for me. Laugh and talk and be with me.
I need you.
Tell me what I'm doing right.
My life is full of messages of what I'm doing wrong these days. From grades or friends to self-image and dating, I know well where I fall short.
Instead of focusing more on my flaws, I could use a little help with seeing my strengths right now.
I could really use the message that despite all the ways things are falling apart there are still places where I shine.
Help me see to see my own light.
My dreams and yours won't look the same. They're not supposed to.
Even if you think my dreams or passions are impractical or foolish or crazy, feed my fire. Please.
Encourage me. The world provides enough discouragement without you adding to the mix.
I'm trying on adulthood and wondering where life can take me. I need you on my side, cheering me on.
Despite our differences, I need to know that you accept me. All of me. The way I dress, the people I like, the music I enjoy, my vision for the future – everything.
Being a teenager is hard enough without feeling like I'm being judged at home. Find reasons to love who I am, even when it's not what you were expecting.
Acceptance matters to me. So, so much.
Be my safe-place.
The world has enough bullies without me finding one at home.
I need our home to be a safe place.
So let me express my feelings – as big or uncomfortable as they may be. Let me be vulnerable, angry, afraid, and confused with you. Let me stumble and fall and get up again as you offer me your hand. Just like you did when I was small.
Be my safe place and my anchor in these stormy emotional seas.
With these ten points to guide us we can stay close to our teens and be available for them during this time of their great unfolding.
It may be messy, it may be emotional, but they'll know they can count us us to keep loving them, liking them, and being the arms they can fall into when everything falls apart.
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You might also enjoy my More Peaceful Parenting series. While I wrote it for young children, I'm finding it still applies as we move into the teen years.
I'd love to hear what you would add to the list! Especially those who have already navigated the teen years and stayed deeply connected through it all.
Originally published in 2015.