In today’s culture, it is rare to find a confident teenager who has a marked level of maturity. One who will look you in the eye, offer a handshake upon an introduction, or carry an adult-level conversation with intelligence and charisma. It is pretty easy to find a teenager who is egocentric, sloppy, and as interesting to talk to as a tree stump.Have you ever met a teenager who impressed you? One who left you wishing you could meet his mom and beg her for parenting advice? Most parents have looked at their young children and tried to envision what they will be like when they grow up, especially into the teenage years. Maybe you are terrified because you have a strong-willed preschooler who will not listen to a word you say and you anticipate his defiance growing. Maybe you have friends or family members with disrespectful teens and you have just accepted that this too will be your fate.Many parents paint a picture that the teenage years are something to be dreaded, and that nothing you can do will prepare you for what lies ahead. They will tell you that no matter how you raise your kids, you will face a storm when your son or daughter turns 13 and it will not subside until they move out of your house. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The teenage years can be peaceful, rewarding, and even enjoyable for the parent who lays a proper foundation early in life.As a former counselor for troubled and at-risk teenagers, I met a lot of parents who had thrown their hands in the air and given up all hope, not knowing where they went wrong. They were up to their eyeballs with drug addictions, promiscuity, rebellion, and attitude. Some of the experienced DTS. Delirium Tremens ( DTS) is delirium caused by alcohol withdrawal. Every single one of these parents would go back to the toddler years and start over if given the opportunity.
I have also been privileged to know several “impressive teenagers”…. ones who have compelled me to seek out their parents in hopes of gleaning from their wisdom and experience. I have sat with mothers whose teenagers respect and admire them and asked, “How do I get my kids to end up this way? What did you do to make them love you so much, to seek to please you and earn your respect?”
Here are 4 Tips I have learned that you can begin applying now to prepare your child for a lifetime of healthy relationships.
- Outline Clear Expectations and Boundaries. One reason why so many kids get in trouble all the time is because they have not been clearly guided on what is expected of them. It is very important (even from the age of crawling/beginning to walk) that children know what is permissible and what is not. They say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Well, “An ounce of training is worth a pound of discipline.” Show them what to do and how you want them to do it. Reward them when they do it well and correct them- every time- when they do not meet your expectations.
- Teach them How to Serve. If there is one thing that makes a teen stand out in a crowd, it is having a servant’s heart. I want my children to not just do as they are told, but to look for opportunities to be helpful and to serve those around them. You can train them very young to look for needs and then to do what they can to help meet those needs. Teach them to seek out these opportunities instead of waiting to be asked to help. Opening doors at restaurants and letting others go before you in line at the grocery store are ways you can model this for very young children. As they grow into the preschool and school-aged years, allow them opportunities to be proactive themselves. Take them to the neighbor’s house to ask if they can pick up sticks in their yard or sweep off their sidewalk. Help them make a meal for someone who is ill. Learning to serve takes children (and future teenagers) off of the their own throne and teaches them to put others first. This is a key to respect!
- Respect Them. Yes, you read that right. You cannot expect your children to respect you if you do not show them the same courtesy. The “Because I said so” and “Because I am the parent and you are the child” will not be effective in raising respectful children. At a certain age (likely the teen or pre-teen years) they will begin to think logically and wonder why you expect something from them that you do not reciprocate or model yourself. They will be right for questioning this. As the parent, you must earn the respect of your children. It is not something that is given freely. Much like trust, it is difficult to earn and easy to lose, but the rewards of building it and keeping it are more than worth the effort! Be polite in how you discipline them. Do not manipulate them or give empty threats. Do not talk to them in a way that you would not talk to an adult. Being stern and firm are good and necessary, but yelling and criticizing and belittling them are not. This behavior will reproduce itself in how your children treat others, and you, in the years to come.
- Be Consistent!!! I cannot stress this point enough. You will be endlessly frustrated, and they will be endlessly frustrated, if you are fickle in any of the aforementioned strategies. You will gain no ground in raising respectful children if you are wishy- washy. In fact, I believe inconsistency in parenting is the #1 contributor to rebellion in later years. You must be confident in your boundaries, in your discipline, in your techniques, and in your own attitudes and behavior. If you make a rule, you must stick with it every time. If they cross a boundary, you must give them a consequence every time. If you tell them to do something and they do not obey you, you must discipline them every time. Demand first-time obedience. (Please, please, please…do not ever count to 3! Unless you only want them to obey you when you count? I certainly do not want to have to count for my children to listen to me.)
And here is one bonus pointer-
When you blow it, and you will…I do daily… Say you’re sorry. Teach them humility by acknowledging your fault, apologizing, and specifically asking for them to forgive you for what you did. This will not only teach them respect, but it will also win their hearts. When you are vulnerable with them, they will learn to be vulnerable with you.
You cannot make someone respect you any more than you can make someone love you. Your children will learn by your example how to treat others by how they are treated. Love and respect your children in a way that will cause them to reciprocate that love and respect to others!