I decided to do a top ten list of what I think are the most important tips in raising a teen. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Encourage your teen to think for him/herself. Restrain yourself from being the chief problem solver of their life even if they ask you to be that for them. If you want them to make good choices when you are not around, you need to encourage them to try to problem solve when you are around. Practice makes perfect!
2. Try not to ask a zillion questions. You won't get the answers you want anyway, and they stopped listening at hello. Try starting with a discussion about your day, or some neutral subject, and engage them in a conversation before you start the interrogation.
3. Try to refrain from going on the "lecture circuit." I know you have a lot of wisdom and life lessons to impart, but when you see their eyes roll up into their head, you have probably lost the moment. A good speaker always reads their audience. If you are living a life filled with purpose, and model for them what it means to be a good person, then you won't need to tell them what it means to be a good person. They "get it."
4. As uncomfortable as you may be, you gotta talk about sex. Do it with honesty, candor, and understanding, not judgement. Talk about your own struggles, and experiences when you were a teen, especially those moments of which you are the least proud. If they know that you made some stupid decisions in your life when it came to sex, they will feel freer to share their questions and worries. Nobody likes a goody goody!
5. When it comes to alcohol and drugs, make your house safe. The first place kids look for forbidden fruit is in your garden. Again, you need to have honest discussions, sans judgement, understanding that they will be in situations they have never been in before, and will be "tempted by the fruit." Help them to anticipate these situations, and problem solve about ways to stay safe.
6. Do not rule with an iron fist. This may have worked when they were younger and liked rules and regulations. Your teen needs to be a part of the rule making if you don't want them to be a rule breaker. Teens will easily resort to lying when they feel you have left no room for negotiation and conversation. Most kids are actually pretty reasonable, and when given the opportunity to have some control will rise to the occasion, and conversely if they feel too over controlled will try to take it.
8. Absolutely set limits (with their input) with cell phones, computers and video games. Just like you let them eat only a few pieces of Halloween candy a night when they were younger so they wouldn't gorge themselves, you need to see these devices in the same way. No cell phones to bed, a set amount of time for no cell phone or face book during homework time. And include them in looking at their phone bill on a regular basis. Mindfulness not mindlessness.
9. Find multiple moments to express your appreciation, and pride in them. This might be near to impossible sometimes, but there is nothing more important. I'm not talking about good test scores or term grades, but a moment of kindness caught, maybe a nice moment with a younger sibling, or a sweet conversation with a grandparent or maybe after a tough week of school, and sports or play rehearsals, appreciating them for taking on so much. Maybe its just an out of the blue" you're a good kid, and maybe I don't tell you that enough."
10. And finally, please find some fun with your teen. Hang out, watch TV, bring in some pizza or Chinese food, go to the driving range, play a video game, listen to music with them, go get manis and pedis, bake a cake, take the dog for a walk, go shopping, anything that may give you a moment, maybe just a moment, of sweetness with your kid.