4 Parenting Mistakes I Made This Year with Our Teens (And 5 Things I’m Doing Right!) 

by Samurai Mom

In writing for Parent Samurai, I’ve become a bit of a parenting advice hound. I sift through publications, government websites like the CDC, articles by pediatricians, psychologists and blogs that offer a unique take. We can always use more resources to help parent the chameleon teen. 

In many ways, this is the most challenging phase in kids’ development. If you’ve visited our site before, you already know our motto: parenting teens takes grit. 

To make things more complicated, every teen is different. What works for one kid may send the next in the wrong direction.

So when I spot a good, readable article about common parenting mistakes we might be making, I share the gold. Sean Grover’s “Top Ten Parenting Mistakes: Boo-boos, blunders, and screw-ups . . . and how to avoid them in Psychology Today caught my eye for its solid logic and friendly tone.

Maybe it’s Grover’s Masters in Social Work that inspires him to weave in the perfect combination of rational and compassionate advice. As he frames it, “Parenting is The Ultimate Learn-As-You-Go Experience – it’s a full-time job with no training or supervision.” 

Grover contends that the most important part of parenting of teens is recognizing when something you do is not working. After all, if there’s no supervision, who else is going to catch your mistakes but you? In reflecting over the last year, I’ve pulled out a couple of Grover’s “Top Ten…” tidbits to share what I’m working on as Samurai Mom. 

Note: Samurai Dad has his own parenting self-evaluation to do, but has helpfully given his two cents over my shoulder as I write. ; )

Here’s what I’m working on:

1. Micromanaging (#10 on Grover’s “Top Ten…” list)

Kids grow into teens and our former parenting repertoire doesn’t fit anymore. Sometimes they change so fast that we have trouble keeping up with the new growth. And there is nobody who can tell you for sure if teens are ready for the new privileges they crave. 

So – out of habit – we parents may fall back on the tried and true parenting strategies that worked well when they were younger. 

Like nagging, overseeing their chores too closely or falling back on counting them (if you ever used 123 Magic, you know exactly what I mean) when they’re not listening. Last week, I looked up at my son (who towers over me now) and the warning, “That’s one…” in response to some goofy thing he was doing, sprang to my lips. I barely had time to cover it up with another, more teen-appropriate response, which came out weirdly garbled. Then I had to make a show of a coughing fit to buy some time. 

They’re no longer children. They’ve grown in decision-making, long-term planning, self-care and some other milestones on the way to adulthood. 

But they’re not adults yet either. Teens are right in the middle of a continuum of greater autonomy and it takes an intentional plan to help them grow at their own pace. 

Here’s the kicker: that same kid who has a mini-temper tantrum over a random frustration in the morning (“Mom, I can’t find my sweatshirt! Where is it?!”)  may present himself for a reasonable discussion to ask if he can visit a friend just hours later. 

So, how do you parent a kid riding on a seesaw between childhood and adulthood?

The answer is, carefully. Very carefully. You talk to other parents. You read blogs like this one to figure out if everyone is dealing with the same rollercoaster of teenage emotions. And maybe you’re comforted when you learn how common it is.

 I’ll share my inner mantra that I chant silently to give me strength in various situations: I have to accept that they’re getting older. I have to give them a bit of room. I have to recognize that they’ll no longer tell me everything but I can hope that they’ll share the important things. I know that they still need me; it’s okay to change the approach to fit who they are now. I’ll keep talking to them and be there for them.

Here are some ways that I’m intentionally giving them room:

  • Samurai Dad and I keep tabs on grades, but we’ve backed off on managing homework since our teens entered high school.
  • We expect that they’ll speak for themselves with teachers in their everyday classes, while we will always attend teacher conferences, open house and school events. We’ll also help troubleshoot problems and reach out to school if needed for the really big stuff.
  • I don’t automatically jump in with a solution when our teens come to me with a problem. I contain myself, sometimes easily, sometimes with visible effort. I try to draw out the conversation and let them tell me how they’re going to deal with a situation. And then, only then, will I offer a suggestion if they seem receptive. Honestly, this one takes grit on my part.

2. High standards  (Grover calls this Criticism,  #5 on his list)

I’m a teacher who put myself through college with a lot of hard work. So I pretty much assume (in my default mode) that most challenges can be solved by rolling up your sleeves and just getting to it. If one strategy doesn’t do the job, try another. Keep going until you finish the project. 

My standards are the most frequent complaint from our teens. Everyone has chores in our family. When my teens clean a room there’s inevitably still some dog fur still rolling like tumbleweeds in the corners. I’ll say something like, “It’s a start”, which I see as positive. Here’s the message that I intend to send: Give it another go! They don’t usually receive it that way.

I’ll always encourage our teens to do quality work. But I also see the dark side of high expectations when I cling to an ideal instead of recognizing improvement or appreciating progress. 

3. Focusing Too Much on the Small Things (Grover doesn’t specifically call this one out, but this is closely related to the standards thing, so we could still call this part of Criticism,  #5 on his list)

When small problems come up, I have to corral my runaway imagination before those thoughts spin me into a mom tizzy. One problem does not necessarily lead to other, more serious problems.

To help me keep focused on the big picture:

  • I bought a book called  Don’t Sweat the Little Stuff: and It’s All Little Stuff . The author gives a perspective that I’m actively trying to work into our family life. As the title suggests, there are many things that I worry about in the moment won’t matter much in the long run.
  • I’m trying to be more present in my time with our kids.

The great thing about teens is that they’ll cheerfully provide feedback on how your parenting is going from their point of view. Samurai Son deftly lifted the blinders from my tunnel vision when we got into a heated discussion about grades one night: 

“Mom, just because I got a 72 on my French quiz doesn’t mean I’m going to end up living in a van down by the river.”  (ala Chris Farley as a motivational speaker on Saturday Night Live.)

His comment immediately broke the tension between us and led me to laugh at the ridiculous scenarios that were playing out in my head. I admitted that he was right, that one low grade or even two [gasp] does not create a trajectory into eventual despair.

Sometimes all it takes is a well-placed joke, or even a big yoga breath to bring me back to a lighter perspective. Because when I focus too much on the grades or the dust bunnies, I miss out on something truly big and irreplaceable: appreciating the moments with our teens. And with college just around the corner, how many more of these moments do we get before they’re out of the house?

4. Letting the Family Dinner Slide 

This fall has been especially busy. While we’re all running around like chickens, family dinners have taken a backseat to the events in our kids’ lives. The athletics, the theater, the after-school clubs are important, but we’re all too aware of how easy it is to lose touch with our teens without that face-to-face time. We’ve started batch cooking multiple dishes on Sundays to freeze, which eases our after school dash a little and gives us a few minutes to eat together about 3-4 days a week.

I can accept that as a parent, I’m a work in progress. All of us are. Still, it’s equally important to acknowledge to ourselves what we’re doing right. And if nobody else is praising you for your efforts or improvement, it’s up to you to pat yourself on the back!

What Have I Done Right This Year?

Grover shares the number one parenting mistake to avoid as, “1. Invalidating Feelings – When your children reveal their feelings and insecurities to you, for goodness sake don’t contradict them, correct them, offer unsolicited advice, or use it as an opportunity to lecture about your experiences.” 

Here’s how I’m trying to avoid this mistake – very imperfectly:

1. I love my teens’ company and they know it.

The grit needed to parent our teens is highly variable day-by-day. As difficult as our teens can be, they are funny and sweet at unexpected moments, silly and just plain entertaining. They make me laugh a lot.

2. They like to hang out with me sometimes.

Okay, let me qualify that: they like to be with me when I’m not cranky and hyper-focused on the small stuff that I described above.

3. Consistency and Flexibility

I’m generally consistent. I keep the routines, the rhythm of our days. The rules are usually the same whether there’s a full Moon or Mars is in retrograde. However, when there is a special situation (like when a boatload of homework descends on Samurai Daughter), I’m willing to bend a few rules like the lights-out-at-10:30 or no-laptop-in-your-room.

4. Samurai Dad and I Shuttle Our Teens To and Fro.

Chauffeuring your kids is not to be downplayed as a parenting strategy. It takes a lot of time and patience to get kids to various sports and activities. It’s a visible way to show your support. Bonus: If phones are put away during the ride, we have conversations and I can check in with them. If phones are in their hands, I feel like an unpaid limo driver.  To engage your teens during longer rides, try this conversation starter game.

5. We Support the Exploration of Interests

It’s not all about achievement. I keep my input way low-key when they’re venturing outside their comfort zone and trying on new skills or personas on for size. 

Our Big Goal: accept our kids for who they are, while helping to guide them to be their best selves – I try-try-try not to put our teens in a box. I’m careful not to over-identify or over-empathize. [But sometimes, I am oh-so-tempted to jump in with a, “When I was in that situation, I…]” 

When I listen more than I talk, the conversation is always better.  I didn’t count this as a strength or a challenge but just something high on my radar. I don’t always achieve it, but I make an effort. I know now that even if they are facing the exact same challenge as I did in high school, it feels completely unique to them. My experience might be relevant, EVEN HELPFUL, but only if they’re open to hearing it.

Let me leave you with a final gold nugget from Grover: 

You grow into it [parenting] day by day, year after year. Strive to learn from your mistakes and improve”

And I’ll leave you with this: Keep close to your teens, however you can. The game changes in adolescence, but it doesn’t necessarily have to leave you behind.

Sean Grover, MSW, has also written a book titled, When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully — And Enjoy Being a Parent Again

Picture on Broadway

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