The Instruction Manual for Raising Teens

Made you laugh, right? Gave you a glimmer of hope? Your little fingers couldn’t click on the title fast enough, thinking, “FINALLY! Life will make sense! HELP ME!”

Yeah, me too.

Because once upon a time, in a land not-so-far away, I was raising two precious little girls called The Adorables. And when well-meaning people raised their eyebrows and said, “They sure are cute, but just wait until they’re teenagers”; I was smug. They’ll never be difficult, I told myself. Other people just don’t have MY KIDS, bless their hearts. Mine will be different.

I fell asleep one day to this.


And woke up to this.


A teen and a pre-teen who basically look at me daily like.


And so it began. The push and pull between letting them grow into their own personhood without trying to recreate my own life vicariously. This list has a little scientific backing, some trial and error, but mostly – the life lessons handed to me by parents who raised teenagers to adulthood, teenagers who discuss their experiences and observation of teenagers in their natural habitat…social media.

one:    My teenagers are NOT me
Let’s all take a moment to thank the LORD for that. Without listing all the ways I was not a good teenager, I try not to immediately assume they’re doing what I was doing at their age. I make effort to view each situation through a brand-new lense.


two:    Talking TO them more than talking AT them
Ohhh, the struggle. Because after a long day of working, laundry, cooking, driving; when I find my hairbrush missing after buying FOUR brushes to thwart ways I can lose my mind, I’m livid. Not even years of psychology book work can stop me. But my kids often ask, “Mom, why can’t you ask where the brush is instead of assuming we moved it?” And, on some occasions, I’m the one who moved it. Oops.

three:    Being their friend
I won’t be the friend who supplies alcohol or allows boys to sleep over or keeps dangerous secrets for their friends. I won’t be their friend because I’m fearful of losing their affection. I will cultivate adult relationships to meet my emotional needs. But I will be their friend who has fun with them, acts silly with them and lets them know I’m human. Because in the toughest of times, when the really hard choices arise, I want to be their first call.


four:    Manage my poker face
But when I’m the first call, or the “Mom I need to tell you something,” I have to work on managing my reaction. I DON’T WANT MY TEENS TO ATTEND PARTIES. I don’t want them to drink alcohol, ever. I want them to be perfect angels with shiny halos and super-soft wings. But if and when the halo slips, I must remember that my reaction will determine their next move. Do I want them to lie so I feel comfortable, or do I want the hard truth?

five:    I want to say YES
As one of my favorite mom-to-teens author Jen Hatmaker says, SAY YES OFTEN. I say yes to experiences and relationships. Yes, your friends can come over. Yes, I’ll drive all of you to the football game. Yes, I’ll cook dinner for the neighbor kids. Yes, your friend can road trip with us. Yes, I’ll buy you makeup and hair paint for spirit day. Yes, I’ll help you dress up to see Mustang beat Yukon. YES, YES, YES. Simply put, my relationships have saved me from drowning many times. I want to help them develop their own saving grace.


six:    I need to say NO
I underestimated the most important aspect of raising teens and that is, SAYING NO. It destroys me when they dislike me. I lose sleep when they’re mad at me. But if I don’t teach them the word no, what will life look like for them? I’ve learned the importance of telling them no, meaning no, sticking with no when they argue AND teaching them how to say no. Teaching them to accept no from others. This lesson alone has worn me slick out, but I know one day the payoff will come.

seven:    Teaching them consequences
This one sounds a little like this. “Look. If you act like a spoiled brat, people don’t want to be in relationships with you. Not friendships, not romantic unions, not professional partnerships. You can behave like a diva and be difficult, but the price is isolation or forced interactions.”


eight:    BOUNDARIES
Girls, boys aren’t allowed to make disrespectful and sexual comments to you. I don’t care if you’re wearing a bikini or a moo-moo, they’re not allowed. Why? Because you’re going to tell them it’s not allowed. Your friends aren’t allowed to treat you terrible. Why? Because you’re going to tell them it’s not allowed. You’re going to gently and fairly communicate your truth, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Here’s the tricky part: You’re not allowed to trample others, either

nine:    Giving grace and mercy
In college, I learned that a brain isn’t fully developed until the early twenties. EARLY TWENTIES. Which means, these girls literally aren’t playing with a full deck. And yet, sometimes I hear myself lecturing and laying out expectations for things that took me 39 years to learn. The most difficult part of parenting for me is remembering that I am a teacher, not a dictator. One gets results and the other commands with fear. Please let me never be so concerned with image or what others think that I neglect the souls I’m entrusted with shaping. Please let me never expect feats of them that I, myself, cannot accomplish.


ten:    There isn’t a manual
I respect 8,978 parents who are raising or have raised incredible kids. They all used a different method. The manual, I’ve learned, is experience. Others’ experiences. My own experiences. My kids’ friend’s experiences. Listening. Learning. Being open-minded and flexible. Apologizing. Starting over. Sometimes several times in the same day.

What would YOU add to this list?




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