Do you know what needs to change about you as your child approaches the teen years? Let me give you a hint…it’s something that you’ve done since they were born. And it needs to grow and evolve into something new, just as your teen is growing into a new person that only vaguely resembles the child they once were.

Many parents arrive at the teen years with everything going like clockwork, so why change? What’s been working for more than a decade will surely continue working right up until the day their child leaves home, right? But then they are baffled and confused when their teenager begins to turn their back on the family and all the values they hold dear.

So, what is it that needs to change about you, the parent?   

Change Your Aim

Most parents aim at providing everything for their child. However, I am convinced that there are some lessons that teens are not supposed to learn from their parents. Instead they need to begin working out things for themselves. If you guide every step and give your teen every material want and need, he’ll begin expecting that for the rest of his life.

What’s more, giving your teen the answer every time life presents a difficult question may actually get in the way of all they are supposed to learn. And, it spoils the opportunity for them to flex their decision-making muscles. Instead, allow them to think things through. Move from telling them how to think to asking good questions that will help them sort through their choices.

The aim changes from solving all of their problems and meeting all of their needs to allowing them to learn how to solve their own problems (sometimes the hard way), and taking responsibility for meeting their own needs.

The method is to carefully identify what is going on in their world, and target your boundaries to teach them how to respond appropriately. And keep adjusting the boundaries for every “next new thing” comes along, while allowing them to make decisions along the way. They will probably not make the right choice 100% of the time – maybe not even 50% of the time -- but they need the opportunity to learn by doing so.  

Change the Underlying Purpose of Your Rules

Move away from ruling your home, to using rules for training your teen to face the real world and building their character. In the early teen years and on through the time they leave home, the focus should be on character-building.

The aim is to change the rules that apply to your teenager to focus on setting boundaries and building character, not so much on managing actions.

The method is to develop rules that train your teenager how to think, how to make wise choices, how to keep a commitment, and how to live honestly, respectfully, and obediently. These are the most important character-building qualities you can help them develop.

Change the Way You Listen

I see two extremes in the way parents listen, and neither one is very helpful. The first is a parent who listens in order to react to every word that comes out of their teen’s mouth. The other is a parent who dismisses everything their teen says, and never really listens. Over-listening and ignoring do nothing to prepare your teen to live in the real world.

As difficult as it can be sometimes, I believe it is better to know what a teen is thinking than to not know it. But knowing it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to react or respond immediately. Sometimes a teen is just “thinking out loud” in an attempt to process the difficult things in their world.

If you are guilty of not really listening, you may see your teen baiting you and picking fights just to try to get you to really listen to what’s going on in their life -- at a deeper level.