3 Metaphors: Advice for Parenting Teens

elisabeth stittThis guest post comes from Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching. A veteran teacher turned parenting coach and blogger, she knows that kids and families come in all different shapes and sizes and that there is a long and varied list of parenting practices that can be successful. Find her at http://www.elisabethstitt.com, on Twitter @StittCoaching or on Facebook.

Metaphor #1: They’re on a roller coaster ride. Your job is to stay on the platform.

We’ve all heard about the hormones that wash through teens crashing like waves on a rocky shore. We expected them to be emotional, but we never expected to get caught up on the ride with them. But when you think about it, why wouldn’t we? Since they were babies, we have been holding our breath as we watch them totter on unsteady legs. It is our job to worry about them, right? Well, yes, but you are going to be much more successful if you project the bored nonchalance of an amusement park ride operator. Your teen is up on the ride–terrified, exhilarated, screaming, going a million miles an hour; you are on the platform–solid, confident, predictable, understanding but unconcerned. Being on an emotional roller coaster is scary and draining for your kids. They need to see you standing firmly down below, feeling the comfort of your calm to help them believe that their craziness is just a stage and it will pass–and you will be there to see them through it.

Metaphor #2: They’re like untrained horses. You’ll have more success if you come up along side them rather than straight at them.

Teenagers are skittish. Running on nerves, they are desperately trying to project confidence and independence, while at the same time feeling judged and vulnerable. If you come straight at them with a command or comment, they’ll spook and run the other way. Instead, be a horse whisperer. Seriously, go check out some horse training videos on Youtube. You will see how the trainer gives the horse options and space to keep him relaxed but at the same time stays engaged and near by. Your teen needs to feel that ideas are his own. You need to project confidence in his ability to problem solve and recover from mistakes. All the while, however, you are gently keeping him on track, providing the fence that will keep him from going completely out of control.

Metaphor #3: They’re pulling on the leash. It’s time to give them lots of slack, but not time to cut the cord.

High School is the last training ground you will have before your child goes off into the world. You want them to make mistakes and fail now. It is far better that they fail in little ways while in the safety of your own home than when they are alone in their own apartment somewhere or on a college campus on the other side of the country. Getting in deep and figuring out how to get out of it is a part of growing up. We are so terrified that letting our kids fail means ruining their future that we never allow them the space to learn to grow up. Sure, they might have straight A’s because you got them a tutor when Chemistry got hard, but did you allow them the time to feel the misery of falling behind? Did you give them the space to figure out that they need to talk to the teacher? Did you use the natural consequence of a poor grade to slap them in the face and startle them into taking responsibility for their own learning? Have a long leash. Give kids lots of slack so they can make their own choices and feel the consequences of those decisions. But don’t cut the cord. Keep the warm connection. Make it clear you are always there for them. Offer to help and follow through when they need it. Show them that no matter how much they mess up, you love them and are at hand to work together with them to brainstorm next steps.

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Helping your child develop vital thinking skills is perhaps the best way to prepare them for leaving the nest. My new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

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Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including  “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”