Have you ever heard the saying, “Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-O to a wall”?
It is humorous quote and one many can relate to, but adolescence can more easily be navigated and understood when we actually listen to those in the middle of childhood and young adulthood. The Tribal youth programs at Citizen Potawatomi Nation intentionally seek young people’s input and voices in structuring our goals and activities. Research tells us that although they are considered legal adults at the age of 18 who are capable of starting their own lives and moving out on their own, the brain is not fully developed until at least the age of 24. Some research even points to 30 as the age of full maturation of brain development.
Parents generally have the best of intentions. We set standards with our children and strive to guide them towards an adulthood that we wish we had, all the while ensuring they are safe, happy, and successful.
In an effort to acknowledge their opinions and give them a voice, we interviewed five youth between the ages of 12 and 17 involved in the FireLodge Youth Program. We asked them to write an article about five important tips they would give their own parents if given the opportunity.
1) “Be supportive of our decisions and stay calm and relaxed.” – Teens are learning to become adults, so we must give them opportunities to make their own decisions. Recognize that if they make the wrong decision along the way, they will still learn a valuable lesson from that experience. Young people also recommend having a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself or your kids whenever you can. For some parents, the transition from making all decisions to only some decisions is difficult, but it may also be the best learning tool for teenagers who are striving to become adults.
2) Please don’t “hover” or get “all up in my business.” – Young people know that you need reassurance and they even want and expect you to keep a close eye on them…from a distance of course. At the same time, they are innately and biologically driven and designed to begin living their own life. Stay involved with them, define your roles and ask questions. “You raised me, now trust me,” is one comment we found to be very reaffirming.
3) “I don’t mind a lecture, just make it valuable to me” – Teens do recognize when you are being “100 percent” with them. They strongly desire parents who share their own experiences and teach life lessons based on their own lives. This is easily accomplished when parents are honest about their own lives and personal experiences. We suggest adults use their discretion about how much to share but realize that your teen is likely dealing with similar experiences.
4) “Pay attention and listen when I’m speaking” – Everyone is guilty of getting distracted from communication with one another. As parents, it might be at the end of a long, hectic day when we have a lot on our minds and need to de-stress. Or it might be technology that takes our attention away, as cell phones, television or taking laptops home to work can all be culprits. Teens want your undivided attention and often at the most inopportune times, but it’s important you take every opportunity to give them the attention when they crave it. As one youth stated, “If we are in a disagreement and I’m trying to explain myself or my actions, the most frustrating thing to hear you say is ‘Quit talking back.’ I can’t even speak to my parent when I really need to!” One tool youth desperately need to learn is respectful confrontation and discussion. Model this behavior first and then allow them to respond calmly rather than shutting them down and giving them no outlet to work through conflicts.
5) “Don’t let us get away with things.” – This was something, I think, all parents need to hear. Young people are extremely intelligent and usually know when what they are doing is wrong. So don’t hesitate to call them out on it. In a loving, private manner of course! You are helping them figure out how to do the right thing while also helping them to not feel embarrassed. Additional suggestions included holding them to a bedtime, requiring the use of alarm clocks, communicating expectations and treating they and their siblings in a fair manner.