One struggle for parents of teenagers is knowing whether we’re being too strict or too lenient.
After all, we all know adults who don’t talk to their parents (or who went buck wild in college) because their parents were insanely strict. We also know adults whose lives became train wrecks because nobody ever put on the brakes.
Today’s trend of “buddy parenting” is largely a response to the authoritarian parenting that our generation grew up with. While our parents’ generation generally had more control, there wasn’t always a strong emotional connection, and today’s parents desire more connection and closeness.
To keep open communication, many parents lean toward permissiveness. This keeps their teens talking and deters sneaky behavior since too many rules will lead kids to lie. Connection and closeness are good – but not at the expense of necessary rules. As Nashville counselor Sissy Goff says, having our teens respect us is more important than having our teens like us.
“We’ve all heard the old sayings that rules without relationship lead to rebellion,” she says, “but we’d like to add that relationship without rules leads to kids feeling too much power and a lack of safety. The goal is to work toward having rules and relationship in place, and to parent consistently with both.”
Teenagers have plenty of buddies, Goff adds, but only one set of parents. When we “buddy parent,” we lose their respect and set them up to feel insecure.
Being too permissive also hurts our teens as positive influences pull away and the wilder crowd gravitates to them.
A group of teenage girls on a Christian retreat were taken to a mountaintop and told to listen to their fathers.
One at a time, they were blindfolded and told what steps to take. Since cliffs were nearby, they had to walk slowly and deliberately.
Each blindfolded girl was told to listen to her dad. Her dad was instructed to speak softer and softer until his voice became a whisper. Meanwhile, the girls watching were told to gradually get louder and louder to drown out the father’s voice. After several steps, each blindfolded girl would panic as she asked, “Daddy, where do I go? I can’t hear you!” because the noise was too loud.
As her peers screamed louder, her father’s voice was lost.
I love this exercise and its application to listening to God. For teenagers, who constantly get bombarded by outside voices, tuning in to God’s quiet whispers can make a huge difference in where they end up. It can protect them and steer them away from nearby cliffs.
Adolescence is a time of dangerous new territory. To blindly let our daughters loose without any instruction would be irresponsible. Unlike us, they haven’t lived long enough to see tragedies. They don’t know what can happen from a seemingly harmless choice. They don’t believe us when we share stories of potentially fatal outcomes.
We can’t always save them, but we can prepare them for treacherous terrain. Here are critical conversations to get you started.
Friends, raising teens is hard, and sometimes parents feel desperate – certain their child needs help, yet uncertain of where to turn. Some organizations prey on this, and many “rehabilitation centers” for troubled teens present a good facade and then abuse their teens behind closed doors. Even Paris Hilton recently revealed the abuse she suffered at a boarding school for troubled teens. Years ago my friend Sue Scheff walked through a nightmare with her daughter, and in the aftermath she founded helpyourteens.com. Sue is a nationally known parenting advocate who has helped more than 50,000 families, and it’s my honor to share her story and the guidance she can provide.
“I’m not so sure being in the same place is the same as being friends.”
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
An 11th grade girl missed 2 weeks of school due to an emotional breakdown.
From her large friend group, only 1 girl checked on her, which fueled her fear that her friendships weren’t real.
A 10th grade girl got booted from her friend group. They treated her terribly, yet she was scared to leave because the groups at her school were set in stone, and she had no place to go.
A 9th grade girl saw a dominant new leader convince her friend group to exclude her. Her mom tried to stay upbeat, but seeing her daughter so hurt and spending every weekend at home made her want to cry.
An 8th grade girl got dropped from a group text. First her friends stopped replying to her comments. Then they started a new thread without her.
A 7th grade girl who was kind and well-liked suddenly got edged out. Even her mom noticed how the other moms and daughters would get together without them, and they didn’t understand why.
“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”
When my daughter was 2 years old, she went into anaphylactic shock from eating a food that we didn’t know she was allergic to.
It was a terrifying, painful reminder of how life can change in a blink.
By God’s grace the EpiPen worked, but that night changed me. It was my third major parenting scare, one that left me shaken for days and ready to bargain with God.
I didn’t like how different my faith looked before a scare versus after a scare. It felt wrong. Why did it take an emergency to bring me to my knees? Why did I regret the way I forgot God on normal days and clung to Him in a crisis?
Deep down, I knew I depended on Him for every breath in my lungs, yet I felt self-sufficient until a crisis hit. Seeing my child in danger and feeling helpless to save her made it crystal-clear that I have far less control than I believe.
I have a friend (I’ll call her Janie) who is very outgoing and talkative.
When she was in high school, she told her mom everything. She opened up and shared her heart like every mother hopes and dreams her daughter will.
Things changed, however, when Janie was in 11th grade and overhead her mom talking on the phone one day to a friend. Her mom told this friend how she was afraid Janie might follow her boyfriend to college – but she hoped she wouldn’t because it’s not like they were going to get married.
In that moment, Janie felt violated. Hearing her mom discuss the private life details that she’d revealed in confidence totally blindsided her. That day, Janie says, was a game-changer in their relationship. Although she remained close to her mother and still loved her, she never opened up to the same degree again.
This story is a great illustration of why it’s increasingly important to protect our kids’ privacy as they grow up. For one, it’s the right thing to do, and two, if they find out we’ve shared too much about them – especially in the teenage years – they’ll shut down on us. They’ll find someone else to be their safe place and sounding board.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor W. Frankl
Mom sets the tone.
For years I’d heard this saying, yet it didn’t really register until I witnessed it firsthand.
It was 2011, and my daughters were young. We’d gone to dinner to celebrate a new home that the sellers said was ours. My girls had chosen their bedrooms, and our family was giddy with excitement. After years of being crammed into tight quarters, we were desperate for more space.
And that’s when the curveball came. Halfway through dinner, our real estate agent called and said the owners signed with another family. We soon discovered how they used our contract to get a higher offer.
I was heartbroken – and mad. We’d let ourselves get attached to this house because we thought it was a done deal.
During a Spring Break family trip to a Caribbean island, I got a text from my daughter’s friend.
Help! These guys are begging us to party with them tonight, and they won’t leave us alone.
I reached the girls quickly, thanks to it being a small resort. Sure enough, 5 young men were surrounding and flirting with my daughter and her friend, both 16 years old, as they laid out. The girls were trying to be polite, so I told the guys – who looked to be 20 – that they weren’t interested.
They left, and when my husband arrived, the girls explained how they couldn’t get rid of the guys. They kept pushing the girls to leave the resort, even as they repeatedly turned them down.
With anger crossing his face, my husband’s protective side came out. “Girls,” he said, “you’ve got to be blunt. If blunt doesn’t work, get ugly. Don’t beat around the bush, especially with guys like that. Next time tell them to get lost. Or get up and report them to the front desk.”
It was great advice – yet advice I’d never heard. For many females, being blunt doesn’t come naturally, especially when you’re raised to have good manners. But sometimes, manners must fly out the window, and as we prepare our daughters for the real world, it’s imperative to talk through scenarios that may call for a different voice.
I have a friend who studied city planning and the purpose of bridges.
She explained how bridges are needed as a city grows and expands. They connect one part of a community to another and offer a safe passage.
We related this concept to raising teens – and why bridges matter in the parent-teen relationship. As a child grows up, their world expands and separates them from their family and familiar territory. They need bridges that take them home and safely back to the people who remind them of who they are.
As a writer for teen girls and a mom of three teen daughters, I’ve long looked for ways to build bridges between their hearts and mine. I’ve seen how disconnect begins when we try to give guidance without awareness of their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
Teenagers don’t care what we know until they know that we care, and one way we earn a voice in their lives (and build bridges that last) is by listening, empathizing, and putting ourselves in their shoes to understand what it’s like to be them.
So how do we tap into that inner world? How do we unlock the mystery of a teenage daughter? Clearly, every girl is unique, but as I surveyed girls on what lingers below the surface, they agreed on some common things they wish their mothers knew.
I was pregnant with my third child and waiting to see the doctor.
In the waiting room, an older woman asked me if I knew the baby’s gender. As I told her it was a girl – my third daughter – she and two ladies nearby exchanged glances and moaned. They all had adolescent daughters, and with despair in their voices they told me:
“Just wait until they’re teenagers. You’re really in for it!”
I’d heard this cliché before, and I chalked these mothers up as Debbie Downers and forgot about their gloomy forecast until I started to hear this script again…and again…and again. You see, when you have four daughters like I do now, that is the #1 narrative that older moms share.
For years my goal was to prove them wrong. I promised myself, My daughters won’t be like that. We’ll always be close, and I will not look like these stressed out, strung out, exhausted moms in the throes of raising teenagers.
This goal seemed doable until my daughter started middle school and we started to fight – and I became the stressed out, exhausted mom of a teen girl. From the back of my mind, I pulled out the narrative that I’d heard too many times to count.
Those moms were right! Everyone has warned me about teenagers, and now their predictions are coming true! The answer, I assured myself, was to navigate this new teen territory by digging in my heels and firmly taking control. Otherwise, this daughter and her three sisters would walk all over me.
After all, it was my daughter’s attitude, moodiness, and sass that had disrupted our once loving dynamic. If anyone needed to change, it was her, not me.
Years ago, I spoke to some fifth grade moms about teaching our daughters to build each other up.
I’d just been to a University of Alabama gymnastics meet, and what stood out to me was how these gymnasts cheered as their teammates did crazy acrobatics. Every time a girl nailed a tumbling pass, her teammates went berserk on the sidelines, screaming and jumping up and down. All I could think was how different our world would be if girls could always join forces like this and see themselves as part of the same team.
One mom, a successful entrepreneur, raised her hand when I finished my spiel and said, “Ladies, we’ve got to teach this to our daughters now. I have 50 female employees, and we just had to have a big pow-wow over this very issue. These are grown women who can’t get along, and it creates a very unpleasant work environment.”
It hit me then why it’s essential to teach our daughters early how to deal with drama and conflict. Little girls who can’t get along become big girls who can’t get along, and as they get older, the problems and stakes rise higher. How well we coach our daughters through the ups and downs of relationships has long-term consequences. It could make all the difference in whether they succeed or fail in their friendships, their marriage, and even their careers.
Through my work, I meet a lot of moms and daughters, and one conclusion I’ve drawn is that every community faces the same issues. The most common dilemma I see and hear about is the deep pain that evolves when girls hurt other girls.
“Love is not affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” C.S. Lewis
Only a person without a conscience could watch the video and not feel horror, anger, and heartache.
Only a person with a hardened heart could witness the evil done to George Floyd and adamantly deny that racism still exists. Feeling sick to my stomach I asked myself, How often has racial injustice occurred without video proof? How blind have we been to the reality of prejudice and reckless disregard for life?”
George’s dying words, I can’t breathe, are impossible to unhear. They woke us up, and, like Saul on the Road to Damascus, whose heart converted as he heard Jesus’ voice and went from persecuting Christians to joining the disciples to preach the gospel and changed his name to Paul, they made the scales fall off a multitude of eyes.
The Holy Spirit has been at work, convicting hearts across America of the grave injustices that mark our history and the unjust realities that still exist. In massive numbers, we’ve felt sadness and regret that has galvanized our commitment to righting the wrongs from our past. As my wise friend Toni said, “Only God could give us the same feeling at once.” Only God could take this act of evil and unite us in a movement for change.
A few years ago, I started to see research that says a girl’s self-esteem peaks at 9 years old.
Sadly, that is third grade.
While I’m glad to hear that little girls feel good about themselves, it breaks my heart that big girls do not.
What causes the shift? There are many factors are involved, but I believe a big one is self-consciousness. As little girls grow up, they become keenly aware of what people think. They begin to tune into cues and reactions, caring deeply about people’s opinions of them.
And since relationships are very important to girls (and friendship is essentially oxygen to them in the teen years) girls often sacrifice what they really like – or who they really are – to fit in or belong.
It was a crazy thing to do, especially considering the events of that morning, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
The urge to go back felt incredibly strong, and it descended from out of the blue. Since I had two daughters with me saying, “Let’s do it, Mom!” after I voiced the idea out loud, I gained courage. I felt like it might be healing.
It was February 6, 2020, and at 6:45 that morning, my mom passed away. It had been a highly emotional week as my dad, my siblings, Mom’s caregiver, and I kept vigil around her bed after hospice said we were down to a matter of days. Around lunchtime, as my daughters and I started our drive from Tuscaloosa to our home in Birmingham, we got off the interstate exit that led to my childhood home.
For years I’d toyed with the idea of revisiting this place. It’d been a happy home for our family, filled with love, laughter, late-night antics, big family chaos, and countless friends over the course of 30 years. My parents moved after I graduated from college, and because I loved their new home, I rarely thought about the old one.
But as time marched on, and my mom’s health issues intensified during her final 4 years on earth, a nostalgia grew inside me that I couldn’t shake. I felt my childhood tugging me back, making me miss and long for the past.
This past February, one day before my mom passed away, I opened an email from my five-year-old preschool teacher.
She’s now the directress for a church, and she expressed interest in having me speak to her community.
Immediately I thought of my mom, who was in the room next to me, yet unresponsive. With all my heart, I wanted us to laugh and discuss the irony. You see, I was the shyest kid ever,
I will never forget the email a middle school student sent to their school corporation bravely admitting that he or she could not stop thinking about suicide.
Because the student used an anonymous email address and couldn’t be identified, the superintendent shared the email with the entire school community in hopes that someone might recognize their child in the words.
A reader of my blog, whose child was part of the school system, reached out to me for help. She said she thought of me as someone who knew what to say to hurting children, and she asked me to draft a response she could send to the anonymous student.
After reading the original letter, I provided some words of encouragement and information that I thought would be helpful for this hurting young person. It was a very difficult letter to read, of course, but … there were two statements I couldn’t stop thinking about: “I can’t tell my parents,” and “I really need someone to talk to.”
Since many parents were frightened it could have been their child who wrote that letter, an outpouring of affirming messages were sent in reply to the anonymous email. The outcome of this particular student’s situation is unknown, yet I know that the community of parents was forever changed by this young person’s courage. They were inspired to connect with their kids in ways they hadn’t before.
Many parents, some for the first time, saw the vital importance of offering unconditional acceptance and undivided presence to their children, regardless of their age.
First of all, let me say how no words can alleviate the pain you may feel right now. It is real, it is raw, and it is perfectly understandable.
Of all the worries that you and your parents have had over the span of your life, having your senior year disrupted by a global pandemic was never a blip on anyone’s radar. In fact, if you’d written a fictional English essay about this just two months ago, your classmates may have laughed because it sounds far-fetched. Yet here we are, dealing with a reality that is stranger than fiction.
My heart breaks for you because my daughter is a high school junior. It’s easy for me to imagine how we’d feel in your position. In short, you’ve been sucker-punched, hit by a curve ball out of left field, and no plan B can compensate for how cheated you may feel to lose the final 2 months of your high school career.
Years ago, I sat in on a conversation between two young widows. One woman had just lost her husband, and her friend – years ahead in her grief journey – shared what another young widow once told her.
“When you grieve,” she explained, “you’ll often grieve in advance. You’ll feel sad because of what would normally happen this Saturday, yet won’t happen now because he’s gone.”
In many ways, this principle applies to you. You’re grieving your senior year – and every highly anticipated milestone. You’re mourning what was supposed to happen but no longer will: prom, awards day, senior banquet, senior trip, championships, banquets, senior skip day, college T-shirt day, touring your elementary school in your cap and gown, and – of course – walking across the stage at a May graduation.
I’ve never been one who readily embraces change.
If anything, I like to stick to the plan, stay focused, and make it work.
But right now, we’re all changing plans. We’re canceling, re-prioritizing, and uniting to save lives in a global pandemic. What sounds like a plot out of a grossly exaggerated Hollywood movie is shutting down our society, and the strangest part is, we have no prior experiences that even halfway prepared us for this predicament physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially.
Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring – much less next month or next year. And while I spent the first few days of this crisis panic shopping and spending hours online to read articles and stay informed, I quickly concluded that I don’t want to live through this history-making event feeling constantly panicked, scared, and anxious.
I don’t want to be so glued to the news that I miss this extra time with my family as we hunker down and help flatten the curve of the COVID-19.
Everyone is worried about teenage girls today – and with good reason.
In short, they are struggling. From epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness…to a mental health crisis that’s starting younger and younger…to a suicide rate that’s hit a 40-year peak…to the stress of technology and a promiscuous culture, girls face challenges and trials that pain us and haunt us as they flash across headline news.
Like teenage boys, they’re growing up in a fishbowl. They’re scared to death to fail because perfection is the bar. They juggle insane workloads and intense pressures to succeed, and they feel anxiety over realities like our country’s current quarantine, which has quickly ushered in a new era of fear. They’re the first generation of teenagers to be more stressed than their parents.
Today’s girls feel overwhelmed emotionally – yet unsure how to talk about it. They get bombarded by images that make them feel inadequate, and rarely do they get downtime because technology and social media create an intoxicating pull to constantly connect with friends.
The fear of writing may never replace spiders as the number-one phobia. Yet as a teacher, I’ve met many parents who feel uncomfortable – and yes, a little afraid – when it comes to writing. Some confess their dread of sending me an email, half expecting me to return it marked in red.
The problem intensifies when their children struggle with writing. How can parents help?
Sure, you can hire a tutor. But here are 8 ways you can improve your child’s writing.
I remember the early days of social media, when everyone was happy and just excited to share space.
Back then, we couldn’t get enough of each other, and we spent hours catching up and reconnecting with old friends.
Today, sadly, a lot of that congeniality is gone. After years of sharing life highlights, we think we know each other better than we do. We speak without filters and struggle with envy or comparison. Rather than act like family, we act like jealous siblings. Spending too much time together, with no parents to referee, has begun to take its toll.
We are different people than we were a decade ago, and more drastic than changes on the Internet are the changes in Internet users. Generally speaking, we’ve grown testy and dismissive, quick to write off or tell off anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100 percent or who rubs us the wrong way.
The problem, of course, is that no two people see eye to eye on everything. Even best friends have opposing opinions, and that’s okay if they’re respectful. On social media, however, we get to skip the real-life challenge of trying to work through differences or bite our tongue to not be rude. Instead, we can join tribes of like-minded friends who second our opinions and make us bold in speaking our mind. While tribes can be beneficial, issues arise when tribes become echo chambers where every voice and story heard only affirms the group mindset.
In these echo chambers, pride grows, minds shrink, and tribes fall under the illusion that they are always right and the rest of the world is wrong. They forget how even a broken clock is right twice a day, and how every human being has something valuable to teach us.
“I want to send my kid on a mission trip so they can learn to be grateful…you know, appreciate everything he’s got and realize how blessed he is.”
In my line of work, I hear variations of this phrase a lot. It always makes me cringe. The point of a mission trip should never be to teach gratefulness. As a parent, that’s your job. Because gratefulness is learned at home and practiced in the world. Not the other way around.¹
I’m the CEO of a ministry called Go Be Love International. We send hundreds of people on short-term trips to mission fields around the world every year. I’m also a wife and a mom to five awesome kids, ages 9-15. So I’m sensitive to the mission trip thing. But also sensitive to the parenting thing. These two go hand-in-hand, because parents have the ability to set their kids up for success before they even hit the mission field.
Cultivate a heart of gratefulness in your child long before their mission trip, rather than expecting them to absorb this value on the field. A child who goes to the mission field with a grateful heart already in place can use their trip for what it’s intended: learning, loving, and serving. This will free up your child to be comfortably relational on the field, to simply meet and enjoy people, focusing on our similarities, rather than constantly drawing comparisons because of our differences.
A short-term mission trip isn’t about changing the world or fixing a developing nation. It’s about gaining perspective, building relationships, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone. It’s a little known fact but “mission” doesn’t really happen on a one-week mission trip. Mission happens in the other 51 weeks of your year, depending on what you learn and how you apply it in your “real life.”
My late father-in-law enjoyed college football, but he never let the outcome dictate his mood.
In fact, he often joked, “Don’t let your happiness depend on 18-year-old boys.”
That is easier said than done, right? Especially here in the South, where football is like a religion, victories and defeats can dictate moods for weeks or months on end.
Why the obsession? Why is football a billion-dollar industry? I find it interesting (and kind of crazy) that Americans will pack stadiums and pour money into a sport that revolves around one ball. Many people care more passionately about who dominates that one ball than they do eternal matters.
Yet God’s genius is that He can use anything – even one ball – to speak to us. He meets us where we are and often tells epic stories in stadiums and arenas. Through both lows and mountaintop moments, we can experience Him, learning lessons about life and character that can only be taught through exhilarating, high-stakes events.
“Except for during the summer months, today’s teens now, for the first time, feel more stressed than their parents do. They also experience the emotional and physical symptoms of chronic tension, such as edginess and fatigue, at levels that we used to see only in adults.” Dr. Lisa Damour
I was saddened to hear it – yet not surprised.
According to the American Psychological Association, today’s teens are the first generation of teenagers to feel more stressed than their parents, at least during the school year.
We saw it coming. We’ve read the heartbreaking stories. We’re seeing the dire consequences, how young people today are lonelier than senior citizens and report poorer health. How rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011, when smart phones became ubiquitous, and the suicide rate among teen girls is the highest it’s been in forty years. How iGen is on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.
What is provoking so much stress? I believe it’s a perfect storm of many factors.
One interesting dynamic of life is the universality of what feels most personal.
Those hard feelings deep inside you that hesitate to admit? That inner wrestling you do in your quest to find peace? The pain that keeps you awake at night in bed, tossing and turning as your mind spins restlessly and relentlessly?
It is all part being of human.
God planted in us a desire to be with Him.