Parenting teenage children don’t always have to be difficult (1 of 2)

Throughout my adult years I have heard many comments that parenting a teenage kid is super hard … they start clamming up and not saying anything to us, becoming rebellious, becoming creative in their ways to avoid punishment and restrictions, etc., etc.

We have a 13 year-old boy at home and understand how hard it can be, at times. But along the way we have also learned some tricks to get a better grasp of what our child is going through and ensure that he is not breaking the rules that we have set for him. Below are some of the things we are doing that are actually working:

1. Always discuss the expectations, perimeter and reward/punishment beforehand. With our son, for example, we agree with him that he will not have access to video and computer games during the week. And why. And if he misses a homework that week, he would lose his gaming privileges for the weekend. This way, when punishment needs to occur, it won’t be caused by some obscure reasons that the kid is not aware of. Many kids resent their parents because of punishment for “no reason”. What in fact happens many times is that the parents do have a reason to punish, however the rules are not clearly communicated beforehand. We have been blessed with the fact that when he is punished, he accepts it because he knew what got him into trouble to begin with.

2. Work with their teachers and school counselors. I have found my son’s teachers a great help in knowing some aspects of him that we wouldn’t otherwise know because we don’t know how he is at school. There were times when he’s got a zero in his homework / projects and said, “The whole class did it wrong, so everyone failed!” (excuse to not lose his games over the weekend) and upon inquiring about it to the teacher, apparently he simply did not submit that homework (he thus loses his games over the weekend).

There was also a time when we were not sure what he was interested in, other than games. Talking to his PE, music, and technology teacher as well as his home room teacher helped us discover that he is not musical and not into competitive sport, but very engaged in anything involving designing, building and programming. This way, we could start making plans for his future based on his strengths and weaknesses.

3. Get to know your kid’s friends. Some times we don’t know how troublesome, or awesome, our kid is until we see other kids his age. For this reason, I prefer my son to bring friends over to our house instead of having him go  to a friend’s place whose parents I don’t know, or whose parents both work and are not available to provide a level of supervision to the kids. By observing and talking to other kids at our place, I get a feel of how strict or lenient we are to our kid and if anything needs adjustment.

4. Be friends with your kid’s friends’ parents. I have a number of friends whose sons hang out with my son. Every now and then we call each other, or meet, to see if we are facing common issues with regards to our kids – and what we’re going to do about it. Recently I found a math tutor for my son through my son’s good friend’s mom. Another mom learned about parental control software from me. Parenting is not supposed to be a lonely task. It is much lighter when you share the burden with other parents.

5. Be consistent in applying the rules. Quite some times husband and wife are not consistent in enforcing the rules. We also fall into this mistake several times. Kids will see this inconsistency and would play one against each other, with the hope that the “softer” parent would have the upper hand. We try to prevent this by dividing the task: my husband is tasked with “introducing” the rules and reward/punishment system, while I’m the one enforcing the rules because I’m home a lot more. Whenever I have a problem in enforcing something (because, after all, my son is now 20cm taller than me and I am “just” the stepmother), my husband steps in and supports me. This way, he knows that not listening to me would only bring more trouble to himself.

6. Be wise in applying tough love and lenience. There was an occasion this week where our son was given a 6-7page reading/writing assignment and given a week to complete it. We repeatedly told him that he won’t be able to do that all in one day, and that he needed to do the write-ups in 3-4 different chunks so it doesn’t become a burdensome task. He chose to leave everything to the last day, thus spending six hours (and past midnight) sitting down to finish it. During that six hours he repeatedly begged us to help him, complained that he got a headache from having to edit his own work, and that he was too tired and sleepy and he would rather get up at 4am the next day to finish it. We could have stepped in to help him structure his thoughts, or given him some clues, or made him sleep and woke him up early the next day. We chose not to – a dose of tough love was needed here so he learned to manage his time better and pay a bit more attention to his parents’ suggestion next time.

On the other hand, I have also seen parents who assert too much control  on their kids – no play dates, tuition every single day, no pocket money, no taking public transport, … and for what? I can understand imposing such rules on young children … but teenagers? Come on … they will only resent you if you put such measure. We need to start letting go and let our kids learn decision-making, independence and being street-smart at this age.

We were utterly surprised one day when we realized that one of our son’s good friend did not know how to cross the road at an intersection. Several times he’s almost been hit by a car when he did that. And then he said, “I’ve only crossed the street using pedestrian bridge, or with accompany.”   There was also one boy that I know whom, at age 13, didn’t know his home address because he’s never taken taxi before. He’s always picked up, never had to go home alone other than going home from buying food across the street. He never needed to remember his address.  Some times, more control over our kids is not the best way to teach them to grow up and be responsible.

7. Don’t set a trap for them. I was so tempted to “set a trap” for my son last week. He just lost his gaming privileges for 2 months for some serious issues. However, we decided to let him go to see a movie with some friends. The problem was … there was an cyber game cafe right next to the cinema. I was planning to ask him for the movie ticket when he got home, to make sure that he was indeed in a movie theatre, without telling him first. Thank God I realized that this would be unfair to him – most people threw away their movie tickets and he would resent me for trying to set him up. After all, parenting is not about proving to your children that you’re smarter and sneakier than them.

So I asked my son which movie he was going to watch and what time would it start. I checked online to see if the movie did start at the time he mentioned (it did). Then I told him,

“You know you have done things in the past week that have made us wondered if we could really trust you.” (he said yes)

“Trust is earned, not given.” (he nodded)

“So until you prove to us that we could fully trust you, every time you go out with friends for a movie, we will need to see your movie ticket and you need to go home straight after the movie is over. If you go to a friend’s birthday party, we need to see the invitation and talk to their parents before letting you go” (he agreed)

“You know we hate doing all this cross-checking, right? This is extra job and extra stress for us, but it’s the only way for us to be able to give you a level of trust after what you’ve done. We do this because we care for you … we want people to respect and trust you” (he said he understood, and has been complying religiously since then)

Consistently applied, these seven principles will do wonders not only in applying discipline and a sense of responsibility, but also in preventing your kids from resenting you.

Please also check out the second part of this article: Monitoring your kids’ online activities (click here) for more specific ideas 🙂


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