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Living and Learning with Teens

Living and Learning with Teens

By Michelle Barone, M.A., M.F.T.,

Every stage of your child's life brings both joys and challenges. Living and learning with a teenager is no different. There are days with challenges, life has challenges. There are days filled with joy, life has joy. Living and learning with teens will bring much joy to your family. If you can begin to understand what the world looks and feels like from the perspective of the teen, you can reduce the challenges.

Take a moment to think about what teens need. You may not know exactly, so first, let go of any preconceived notions you have about teens. Some that I hear a lot are:

  • Teens are rebellious
  • Teens need to push parents away to grow and mature
  • Teens don't like being with adults
  • Teens are lazy
  • Teens are irresponsible
  • If he/she doesn't get disciplined now, life is going to be very hard

Let's remember that a teenager's brain is growing as rapidly as it did in the first two years of life. The brain is both growing and pruning. This accounts somewhat for the extra need for sleep, the moods that switch with little warning, the tone of the voice and the misinterpretation of parents looks, tones and feelings. Teens need parents to help them balance the rapid changes and create an environment that supports these changes.

Homeschooling your teen, is a perfect way to meet your teens changing needs.

Here is a simple way to help keep you on track:

  1. Time
  2. Exploration
  3. Encouragement
  4. Nurturing

T: TimeTeens need time with family, friends and plenty of time to explore. As the parent you have to be available to your teen with your time and energy. This truly means being able to get teens where they need to be. Being the driver and helping coordinate transportation lets your teen know that you are giving of your time and supporting their needs. Especially younger teens (13-16) need to feel supported in this way. No one is fully available all the time, but it is your job to help and support.

Time to listen and be fully present. It takes time to sit while you hear the whole story about something, especially something that doesn't fully interest you. But take the time, listen to the ins and outs of a friend situation, getting to the next level on a game, a dream they had the other night, their desires and goals. Use this time to LISTEN to give full attention, without being on computer, watching a TV show or cleaning. (Although sometimes doing dishes or outside work can provide an environment where communication flows.) The car can also be a good place. Just a tip, be prepared, late at night is a time that many teens will want to talk.

Time to have fun with your teen. Many teens become interested in activities that you might not have interest in, or are new to your family. SUSPEND judgement, and learn about the interest and activity. This doesn't have to be something you fall in love with but you can have fun by watching your teen having fun with it, or by participating on some level.

In my family this became auto racing, in all its forms, and I spent a fair amount of time watching races, going to races, learning about racing, and for a summer watching him race (not at all comfortable). His interest has waned, but I still peek at a race every now and again. With my other child it was musical theater in all of its forms, and that was much easier for me to fully "get it." The time I feel I invested in fully being with my kids as they explored these interests have created some wonderful experiences and memories.

E: ExplorationName of the game for living and learning with teens. Teens brains thrive on challenge and new experiences, and actually need new and novel experiences for development. This is a time to explore new experiences, new foods, cultures and ideas. I mentioned above about embracing your teen's interests and the importance of time supporting these interests.

Embrace the idea of exploration and the "testing" of things out through experimenting. Exploring and experimenting, takes many forms such as a new style of dress, a new look, and new interests. Some of what hooks them can be a life-long passion, or a short lived experience. All are valuable and widen the teen's view of the world and understanding.

This is the time many explore different religions, food choices, lifestyles, they may assertively reject what they have always known for a while. Many become very connected to a cause that speaks to them or politically active. This is also a good time to travel both with your teen and without. Much can be learned from traveling and stretching your comfort zone, and we can be open to seeing the experiences through our teens eyes.

E: EncouragementEncouragement from you, knowing that you value and believe in them. Encouragement is experienced by teens more by what you do, then what you say. Teens, despite some common myths, still do want to please their parents and feel their approval. You are their cheering section, although you don't have to jump up and down.

You encourage by supporting them with time and your interest. You listen and support when they have disappointments, are hurting, are confused. You connect to their competency. You let them know that they will be okay when things aren't always working out. You show them by being at performances, games, helping them when they are stuck on writing a paper, or having trouble with another adult.

Parents must become adept acrobats in the balance of holding the space of safety so your teen can try and fail and try and succeed. They must feel and know that you are on their side.

N: NurturingNurturing for both physical and emotional well being. Everyone needs to be nurtured. Teens sometimes push away physically but that doesn't mean that they don't want some physical contact. They are changing so fast and can be feeling confusion about wanting to feel grown up and wanting to sit in our laps or lay their heads on our shoulders. Take any opportunity you can to make physical contact.

When they come to your room late at night and ask, "what are you doing" just gently invite them in and soon they will be sitting on the bed talking. For families who watch TV this can be a time to enjoy a show together and talk about whatever comes up. Laughing together, playing games, watching a movie or show can all feel nurturing and supportive.

Emotional nurturing has an extra piece to remember — keep as much neutrality as possible. That means when your teen is talking with you, sharing ideas, feelings, experiences, stay as non-judgmental as you can. This is the time to listen and reflect. Keep some of your thoughts to Yourself. Be curious with teens to get more information.

There is plenty of time to share you thoughts, feelings and values. Begin a dialogue where there is sharing without judgement. Making room for all opinions while setting limits when necessary, teaches teens that they are valued. Help everyone get their needs met when possible. There are going to times when you set a limit and your teen will be angry or disappointed, but with connection and regular respectful communication a healthy relationship can stay intact.

As we support our teens, we must remember to support ourselves. As parents we need to have friends who allow us to share our joys and challenges without judgement. We need activities that keep us connected to our passions and interests. We need time to nurture ourselves and our adult relationships. More than anything our teens watch what we do, so treat yourself well and model what you desire for your teen.

About the Author:

Michelle Barone

Michelle Barone M.A., M.F.T., is a licensed family therapist, parent educator, credentialed teacher, and retired La Leche League leader. She homeschooled/unschooled her two children and has been working with homeschooling families for 18 years. She lectures at homeschooling conferences and co-facilitates a homeschool information night in the Los Angeles area. Michelle contributed to The Homeschool Book of Answers, edited by Linda Dobson, and is the author, along with homeschool advocate Mary Shannon, of Exploring Your Family's Educational Journey. Michelle is in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She conducts parent education workshops, parenting groups, and private consultations.

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Copyright 2008, Michelle Barone.