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We live in a time like no other: my children have never had to learn how to use a computer and the speed at which they can find what they want to know on their smartphone is breathtaking. But parenting teenagers in the age of ultra connection and mega messages has its own set of challenges.
My parents would ground me or send me to my room to discipline me as a teenager. That doesn’t work for today’s teenagers; sending a teenager to his or her room just gives them time without interruption to keep doing what they do on Snapchat, Tumblr and Facebook Messenger.
Many times I am asked how I juggle parenting and founding a business. In some ways the younger years were easier, despite lots of logistics, juggling and muddling my way through. Teenagers need their parents too. They need our guidance and values, and they need us to listen. Simply being present and in my children’s world, often on the floor playing their games, worked a treat when the children were small, but now that they are almost out of their teenage years, life has changed.
I have heard many parents say, “I just want my kids to be happy.” I find this plea rather frustrating because happiness is one of the many human emotions – it is not an outcome or a destination. The experience of happiness comes from so many actions including gratitude and helping others. What I want for my teenagers is for them to have respect, take responsibility and be resilient.
I believe that if they have a sense of purpose, stick at it and work toward something they believe in, then they will be in a vastly different emotional space than just “happy.”
The difficulty is how to teach teenagers resilience in the age of instant gratification. The answer is to let them fail; they need to learn to pick themselves up. Life is not perfect and too often as parents we try to keep our kids in a perfect world, like driving them to school just because it is raining. This can be so hard as a parent: we want everything to be just perfect for our precious progeny, but for them to be happy they need to know what it is to struggle and achieve.
How I Did It
Both of my children had a rite of passage year. Now this might not be available for all, but consider what is it that would take your child from childhood to adulthood – a trip, a challenge, a volunteering project, a school exchange to another country? Many cultures have a moment in time where certain rituals identify this change. For both my children it was when they turned 14.
We made a statement to both of them: “After your rite of passage year on your 15th birthday you will be a “young adult” and we will no longer treat you as a child.” This included them taking responsibility for their finances, their choice of school, education and courses. This triggered for us parents a specific change in our language. We no longer would tell them what to do. We would ask them what they were doing. We became their coaches.
The shift to asking also helped us listen, and respect the choices they made. This was a massive step in how we parented, and we did not get it right all the time. But having this as a formula helped guide us.
Some questions we would ask to help them make great choices include, “What does it mean to be a Simson?”, “What impact does it have on others if you are late?”, “Why do you think it is funny to not use shampoo?” Ok, so some of our questions are very leading, but as I said we have not got it perfect.
The other thing we do is help our kids have downtime. Dinner time is about sharing food and sharing conversation; we have never ever had electronic devices at the dinner table. And discipline does not mean “Go to your room!” Instead I ask, “What do you think should be the ramifications for what you have done?” It is often surprising what they come up with – just another chance to know what is going on in their heads.
Being a parent is a great job, but forever challenging, and there is no “I have got this sorted” – they make their own choices.
There is a lesson here for managing millennials too – move from telling to asking and see what you discover.
Photo from my collection