Tips for parenting a teenager from a teacher of teens.

After each school shooting (I can't believe we can even use those words together) I, as many others, start to try to place blame on something. Do we need tighter access to guns? Is it mental health? Is it video games? Is it society and a weakened family unit? Everyone has their opinion and I truly believe that it is not just one thing that we can point a finger at.  If it was, we could have solved this problem a long time ago.

I am open to discussing the realities and policy changes that could happen to prevent future tragedies but that is not my expertise. I understand law from a voter perspective but I do not have the "big picture perspective" that I hope (and pray) our legislative body possesses. What I do have is a teacher perspective on the day to day behavior and interactions of teenagers. Equally as important, I have pages and pages of notes that I have written about parenting. 

I have seen some phenomenal parents raising awesome kids. I have seen awesome kids practically raising themselves despite all the odds against them. I have sympathized with amazing parents as they plead for advice to help their child be responsible and successful. This brings us to the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Are some children naturally born with more grit that helps them overcome or is grit taught? Or is it a little of both? If grit is genetic then is apathy also genetic?

I am not sure if we will ever truly know the answer to nature versus nurture, but I have made observations over the years of parenting decisions that have been very effective during the teenage years. 


If you do not pay your electric bill then your electricity is turned off. Every action has a positive or negative consequence. Make a t-chart or table and on one side decide what duties or responsibilities your child should have for their age. On the other side decide what the consequence is for not doing this task. Both the responsibility and the consequence need to be specific and measurable. For example, my three-year-old has to pick up his trucks every night before bed. If he doesn't pick up all of his trucks then he loses the trucks that are left out for two days. There is no argument about this because he knows the rule and he knows the consequence so he can't whine and try to twist the rule or consequence to fit what he wants. 

If your teenager is supposed to put their phone away by 9pm and then doesn't, what is the consequence? No phone for a day? Think through all of their excuses as to why they can't go without a phone and have a plan. Once they can get away with changing the rule or consequence then they have more power. Take the time to really think through responsibilities and consequences. If your child is old enough, have them participate in the conversation.  Teenagers have more buy-in when they are part of the conversation. 

Technology Use 

I could easily relabel this heading as "establishing routines" because that is what technology disrupts. Can we say Pinterest? It's a black hole that somehow turns five minutes into six hours. Teenagers do not have the self-control to "hop on" Instagram for 10 minutes and then start their homework. 

What happens is they start doing their homework in other classes at school prior to the class the homework was in or they stay up until 3am to complete homework. I understand the consequence of being tired the next day should motivate them to go to bed early but the teenage brain is not developed and they need you to help them navigate decisions. Their brain needs rest to develop and learn. Take the phone, tablet, laptop away at a reasonable hour. Studies show that you should be technology free for at least 30 minutes prior to going to bed. Students need at least 8 hours of sleep so if they need to get up at 6am for school then they should be asleep by 10pm so technology ends at 9pm. 

The easiest way for a student to go down the wrong path is through the depths of social media. Social media is scary and if you are thinking that your child doesn't have social media then you might want to check out all their apps on their phone because so many apps can hide social media apps inside of them.  For example, there is a calculator app that looks like a calculator but then can hide pictures or social media apps and you would never know unless you investigated every single app. 

Technology is part of our world and teenagers will need to learn how to use it appropriately. Look into digital citizenship lessons online and have a discussion about appropriate behavior on the internet and social media. If you, as their parent or guardian, have a social media account, start to show them various posts from people you know and have them tell you if they think it is a positive or negative post and what the effect of that post would be. 


Talk with your children. I talk with my students a lot and more than 75% have no idea what their parents actually do for work. Have meals together and ask them open-ended questions to find out about their day. Tell them about your day and share any opportunities you can to teach them about what you value. If someone made you angry at work and you responded poorly, tell that story to your children, tell them how you responded, and how looking back on it you wished you had done things differently.  Ask their opinion about what they would have done. They are looking for role models and they need real role models full of faults, failures, and successes. Otherwise, they will seek role models on social media or Hollywood and compare themselves relentlessly but will never measure up. 

Whatever challenges you may be having with the season of parenting that you are in, know this:  you are awesome. Every day is a new opportunity to be better than we were the day before. Parenting is a tough job and with two little ones in our house, we are just getting started. Give yourself a lot of grace (and coffee). You've got this! 


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