In confession recently, I told the priest that I’m easily annoyed by one of my daughters—the teen-aged one. He said, “Well, then, that’s excused.” Priests don’t need to be married and have children of their own to get it. Teens can be tough, but here are go-to phrases you can use to help make life with a teenager a little easier.
“Here’s what needs to be accomplished today.”
Try this phrase rather than, “This is what I need you to do,” or “Do this now.” Teenagers want to be treated more like adults and less like kids. They also want to feel in control rather than being told what to do by a parent. Accomplish this by telling them what needs to get done and allowing them latitude as to when they do it. For instance, say, “This needs to be done before dinnertime.” You’ll get less resistance this way—especially if they can’t eat until the appointed task is completed.
“What do you think you should do?”
In instances where it’s not about assigning chores, but helping your teen problem-solve on his or her own, use the above phrase. This also avoids having your teen feel like you’re constantly telling him or her what to do.
For instance, before my younger girls’ bedtime is “book time.” Once, when I announced book time, my 13-year-old started crying because she’s at that age where every little thing sets her off, and because she had planned to play a game with her sisters. She was upset there wasn’t enough time. I asked if she preferred the game over listening to The Fellowship of the Ring. Then I sat back and watched her work it out. “I was looking forward to playing. Finishing my homework took too long. There isn’t time for the game now.” And finally, “I guess we might as well read.” She stopped crying because she had made the decision on her own. That was preferable to me telling her what was going to happen, whether she liked it or not.
“Who will remember this one week from now, or even a month from now?”
Teenagers are embarrassed easily, believing all eyes are on them all the time. When I was a teenager and complained about some horrifying incident that had happened to me at school, my mom would ask me the above questions. The answer, inevitably, was: “Practically no one, if anyone, besides me.” Why? Because everyone else was focused on their own embarrassments and whatever new crazy thing happened that day. By tomorrow, it would be something different and my thing would be old news. No matter how mortifying an event may be, it will be forgotten or replaced by some other poor schlub’s misfortune soon enough.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
My dad knew better than to tell me, as a teenage girl, that I was overreacting, even though I likely was. However, he did gain traction with “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In the grand scheme of life, wearing the same dress as another girl is no big deal. Suggest your teen make a joke about it being the new uniform. Being able to laugh at oneself is a great quality which makes a person more likeable. Plus, if you’re laughing too, everyone else can only be laughing with you, not at you.
“What is the worst thing that can possibly happen?”
Use this phrase, for example, if your teen is in anguish over the need to ace a test, or get into the college of his or her dreams. While whatever they tell you may be the be-all and end-all of horribleness, gently remind them that, ultimately, the worst thing that could ever possibly happen, no matter what the situation, is going to hell. Then ask if failing that test would result in that outcome. Of course, it wouldn’t. Hopefully that perspective will help them lighten up a little.
“It was nice while it lasted.”
Good things in this life will come to an end, like the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, but focusing on the blessing that was enjoyed, even for a short while, makes one happier than dwelling on the void. Remind your teen that it’s more satisfying to be grateful than to feel bitter.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with teenagers is through patience, love, and giving them space, but let them know you’re there for them if they need you. If you’ve formed a solid relationship with your kids since childhood, that will help him or her open up to you as they age. But during every stage, remember to cover the relationship, and your child, in prayer.
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