If you have been a reader of my blog for a while, you know that my husband and I have four teens in our household. When the kids were younger, my role was chief taxi driver. I used to joke I could set up the Uber app to make some money on the side delivering other children to their activities while I was driving my own kids to their various activities.
Now three out of the four teens can drive and the youngest is taking drivers training this summer. Life has changed pretty quickly for me and so has my role with my teens.
When my teens come home from an exhausting day at school, I wonder, what my part is in their education. In elementary school, we were working together on projects, studying for tests, and reading stories aloud. Now my teens are in high school and I am questioning, “What is my role?”
In the past, I have tried on several roles that didn’t work very well with my teens. One role was as tutor. However, that role ended quickly when I was told by my oldest son that I was pretty worthless in helping him with his physics. As a former science teacher, I took that statement pretty hard. However, he had to realize I had not worked on high school physics problems for over 25 years.
Next was the role of defender. I defended my children when they got into trouble with a teacher, when they were not completing their tasks and when other kids declined to be their friend. The defending claims I made for my children varied based on the difficulty of the class assignment, behavior diagnosis, or personality clashes with the teacher. Many of my defending statements were true in some sense, but I realized I was creating a victim mentality for my children. Our children were stronger than the credit I gave them. Many times they did better in solving their own problems than if I had interfered into the situation. So I quickly dropped the role of defender.
Another role I tried was teacher. This role was one I was familiar with; I had been a middle school and high school science teacher for over 10 years. Several times I created a homeschool course on a topic of interest to my teen where wherein I was the teacher. I enjoyed the teaching experience with two out of three of my children. The last experience was a huge struggle and we had to find creative ways to work through the subject matter. This experience taught me that instead of being a teacher, I needed to be more of a guide. First asking what my child wanted to learn and how the learning was to take place. Creating a homeschool course or taking an online course is still an option for my teens to earn credits. However, I have learned from this experience that it’s best if I am in the role of a guide and not in the role of teacher.
I am going to share with you what I have learned for myself as I work through my different roles as a parent with children in the teen and young adult years.
Listen, just listen. Listen with empathy and compassion. “Do you want to talk about it?” is the question I ask when my children are troubled by a situation. Remember your teen is going through life for the first time. This might be the first playing on the varsity team wasn’t possible, or the first time a friend turned out to not be so friendly, or the first time they got caught speeding. Parent coach, Randi Rubenstein, in episode 10 of her podcast, gives a helpful guide to having a productive conversation. Her first step is active listening and empathy.
Cheerleader and encourager is another role that I successfully play for my teens. “How can we make that happen?” is a question I ask, if they are serious about pursuing a dream. My daughter talked about wanting to live in another country. So I asked the question to her and in the fall she is leaving on a high school exchange trip to Europe for a semester.
Advocate is the role I now play often–helping my teens advocate for themselves in a world that is not always perfect. “Do you need help with anything?” I ask this question when I see them struggling with a problem. My help doesn’t include doing it for them. Teens and young people need to learn to reach out for help, look to others, and know that networking is the way to get jobs, careers, opportunities, and assistance
In past blogs, I have referenced a book by Sir Ken Robinson, You, Your Child and School. Robinson gives an overview of choosing the right school, and the right teachers for your child’s education. Then offer suggestions as to how to build a positive relationship between your child, you and the school. Many times parents show up at school because of problems with their child. Robinson suggests that you build a relationship with the teachers and administrators on a regular base by attending school events and parent nights. Parents can become involved in the school as a coach, booster club member, or other volunteer opportunities. I often offer to teach in the career planning course to teens about developing their unique career path. I encourage you to find your own distinctive way to become part of your child’s school.
My children’s teen years have taught me to see that my role as a parent is to be a listener, an encourager, and an advocate for my teens. I have become a parent that can assist my teens as the “Guide on their Side” in ways that will serve them in becoming creative, confident and capable adults.