“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.”
Bill Cosby gave us that phrase. He was probably talking to a teenager when he first said it. Sweet six year olds don’t provoke that response in their parents. Teenagers, on the other hand, sometimes need a little shock effect to help them see things as they really are.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that teenagers are bad people or that parenting them is a dirty chore that we all must endure in order to someday graduate to being grandparents. Parenting teens is an adventure! The teenage stage has been one of the funniest, most exciting stages of our family history. It requires stamina, a sense of humor, and a variety of tools on our tool belt. I’ve coined a few phrases of my own that are “tools” when I want to get through to my teens. You have my permission to use any of them that apply to your situation, but please don’t quote me because that would definitely make me uncool with your teens.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my son?” I borrowed this one from the movie, “Ever After.” It is most effective on a middle school-aged boy when he is acting squirrely (which is often). Grabbing the shirt collar while saying this adds emphasis, unless he is taller than you. The message? Son, I see so much more potential in you than what you are currently displaying.
“I birthed you, didn’t I?” In moments of conflict, sometimes teens question our parental motives; they may even question our love. This behavior fades as they mature, but in the meantime we need a tool to help us keep from taking it too personally, and to reassure them. While they can’t really grasp how childbirth fits into the conversation, it’s a nice reminder to them that you have loved them since the beginning.
“I am the parent.” This one works well when the older sibling is trying to parent the younger sibling. Say this one with confidence, while making eye contact. You can even thank them for their concern.
Sometimes a teenage girl can feel like a Pretty Mean Sister (you can figure out the acronym). It’s easy to be put off by her crabby condition, or worse, drawn into an argument. The best tool here is to say nothing at all and give her some space. A hug also goes a long way, or you can share your chocolate with her.
“I see brake lights!” Helping a student learn to drive stretches any parent’s patience, coronary health and auto insurance premiums. I developed this prompt when my daughter was learning timing in applying the brakes. If the car in front of us was stopping, and it seemed like she hadn’t noticed, this is what I would say. It is a self-controlled way of saying, “Brake now! NOW! Oh dear God, help us, we’re gonna die!”
“Remember Who is with you and in you.” You can use this tool for children of any age. I say this daily as my children walk out the door to go to school. Daily is not too often for them to be reminded that the God of the universe is with them every step of the way, and that they can call on Him no matter what they encounter. One of my daughters now says this to me as she heads out the door.
“Leave your junior high behavior at the door.” In a group of teens, it really is a jungle out there. They tease, make fun of, and constantly test each other. Much of it is innocent fun, but sometimes it is a survival technique in a tough environment. When my teens bring this behavior home, it can be destructive if the joking goes too far and feelings get hurt. My husband and I are committed to making our home a safe place, so we remind them to take off their junior high attitudes as they come in, just as they would hang a jacket on the coat rack by the door.
“Are you serious?” The underlying message: tell me more; I’m interested in what you have to say.” Sometimes they need what you and I need: someone who will listen. Communicating that we are there for them is a wonderful gift. This also works well when they say something outlandish that you don’t quite believe is true. Rather than question their credibility or common sense, let them talk. When they are trying on new ideas, they say crazy things that they aren’t sure they believe. You can secretly laugh and give them time to figure it out.
One of my favorite tools—my power tool with rechargeable batteries—is not what I say to my teenagers but what I say about them. I’m not talking about gossip; I’m talking about prayer. We can talk to the One who created them about the good, the bad, and the ugly. He loves them more than we do, He sees the whole picture, including the things that we can’t see, and He has the power to give them everything they need.
I know that not all situations can be solved through humor or kind gestures. Sometimes we have to face head-on conflict because our teen is making bad decisions with real consequences. Other times we need to be consistent and keep talking about character and responsibility, knowing that little by little, it sinks into their thinking. But there are times when it helps to remember that teenagers are in the crazy process of an 8-10 year transition between childhood and early adulthood. Their bodies are changing, their brains are still developing, and they are trying to figure out who they are. We brought them into this world…we don’t really want to take them out.