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Parenting Teens - Christian Family Resources

9 Effective Ways to Stop Babying Your Teens

  • May Patterson Writer and Teacher
9 Effective Ways to Stop Babying Your Teens

“Mom I’m doomed! Totally ruined. I forgot my navy cheer skirt!” My daughter’s text was laced with panic. Her middle school pep rally started in two hours. Her cheer coach had a ferocious temper and I couldn’t let her cheer in a mismatching skirt, so I left my grocery cart in the middle of the isle and sprinted to my car. I found the navy skirt at home and then sped to the school.

“Thanks Mama,” she said as she hugged me. “You completely saved me!”

As I returned to my stranded cart at the grocery store, one of my sons called. “Mom, I forgot my math homework! Can you bring it to me? Please? I’ll get a zero if I don’t turn it in.”

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but for the second time that day, I left the store without groceries. As I sprinted by a car window, I glimpsed my harried reflection and stopped cold.

What was I doing? I felt like a crazy woman.

How many trips had I made to school just that week? Too many.

Have you ever felt a frazzled “mom-on-call,” too? You try to love and serve your family, and to be the wonderful parent God wants you to be, but somehow you wind up in tears in a parking lot, feeling like a failure.

Or at least that’s what happened to me.

After that frustrating day, I knew I had to stop babying my teenagers. All my pampering and kid-pleasing needed to go, not only for my sake—but for the sake of my children. But how could I alter the way I parent, after so many years?

I began by seeking the wise counsel of other moms. I found a few key Scriptures to cling to, such as Prov. 29:15 (MSG) that says, “Wise discipline imparts wisdom; spoiled adolescents embarrass their parents,” (that one pretty much nailed it). For several days, my husband and I discussed it and prayed about it. Then we made a game plan. Here’s what we did.

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1. Let them get in trouble.

1. Let them get in trouble.

We decided it was better for our kids to suffer a little right now,than to suffer a lot later on. I gave each of them 3 “emergency mom trips” to school per year and I stuck to it (well, mostly). This meant letting my sons get zero’s on forgotten homework until they learned to remember. It meant letting my daughter go without things she “desperately” needed, but forgot. My kids had to run extra laps when they were late to practice. And they each suffered through after-school detention, several times.

Instead of swooping in to save the day, we let it happen. While it was painful for me, it was the best thing for them. Bail-outs only block growth and maturity. Of course, there were times when we needed to step in. Considering this question helped us decide when to do that: “Are we preparing our child for the road or the road for our child?”

2. Don’t wake them up in the morning.

I used to go to my children’s rooms to wake them up, turning on the lights, pulling the covers off of their feet, tickling them, singing annoying songs and even yelling, if necessary. (Am I the only one?) Thankfully I decided to quit the wake-up calls, cold turkey.

“Anybody can train themselves to hear an alarm,” I told my kids. “You can, too. I’m not waking you up anymore.” After a few morning meltdowns, late slips and subsequent groundings, my kids finally learned to listen for their alarms and get up like the rest of the world. Eventually, our mornings became much calmer. And I saw how I’d let simple things, like waking up on time, get way out of hand. I’m glad I reigned it in.

3. Make them work.

My husband insisted that our teens help around the house and find a part-time job. I thought he was being a bit harsh on the job part, but working outside the home was so good for them. My daughter started babysitting and it was so profitable, she nannied all through college. My sons held all kinds of odd jobs, from cutting grass next door, to construction clean-up, to working in a fly-fishing shop. When they graduated from college, their extensive job experience helped them stand out among their peers, landing them good jobs.

Working gave my kids a sense of purpose and self-confidence that they could have missed, if we had babied them. Sure, they complained and resisted at times, but I’m so thankful we required them to work. If we hadn’t, we would’ve robbed them of rich experiences and learning.

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4. Be courageous.

4. Be courageous.

Like every mom, I want my children to appreciate me. But if I do my job right, then sometimes, they're going to get mad. Sometimes, they will not like me. And sometimes, my kids (and possibly yours) will roll their eyes, sigh wistfully and wish they'd been born into another family. If that happens to you, be courageous. Don’t give in. Remember “tough love” is painful for both child and parent in the short-term, but it greatly benefits both in the long-term.

Now that my children are grown, I don’t have to be so tough on them, anymore. But when they were teenagers, I learned that they needed structure and guidance far more than they needed a pandering, “mom-on-call.”

5. Stop being overprotective.

Since my twin boys are adventurous types, I had to learn to keep my anxiety in check. When they played football, it was nerve-racking. Having two new drivers, at the same time, was no picnic either. Then came the camping trips, caving adventures and the hardest thing for me, yet—rock climbing. On cliffs. But if I’d held them back from these “dangerous” things, rest assured, they would’ve found others. Overprotecting them could’ve resulted in even greater danger.

Recently, I saw a “no running” sign on a playground. Seriously. This overprotective trend influences some moms to act as if safety is the ultimate goal of parenting. It’s not. Raising your kids to handle life well, without you, is the goal. But sometimes, anxiety can make you want to shelter your children from everything. Resist the urge. Overprotecting your kids can make them either fearful or rebellious. It can prevent them from developing life skills they desperately need.

6. Stop filling out paperwork.

Dutifully I sat at the dining room table at the beginning of each school year, filling out huge stacks of multi-colored forms for my children. I dreaded it. Of course, I had to do this when they were little. But during their teen years, I turned the school paperwork over to them and then checked it later.

While this really helped me, it also helped them. When the time came, each of my children applied to college without my help (I was amazed). Later, they registered for college classes online and determined their own career paths. Sliding the stacks of papers their way helped them understand the process better.

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7. Don’t be a go-between with their teachers.

7. Don’t be a go-between with their teachers.

Once I rushed down to my daughter’s middle school like an angry Mama Bear, trying to work out a situation with a teacher as a third party. I hate that I did that because my daughter missed the opportunity to advocate for herself. And my intervention only made the situation worse with the teacher.

Learning to stand up for yourself—in all areas of life—is necessary. “Mama Bears” often prevent their kids from developing this necessary survival tactic. Discuss difficult classroom issues with your kids, pray about it with them, advise them, but let them work it out (unless it’s something truly harmful).

8. Parent with the end-goal in mind.

Remember, you’re not raising your kids to be good kids; you’re raising them to be responsible, mature adults. While I knew that babying prevents maturity, I still wound up doing it way too often (I’m a recovering helicopter mom).

Asking this question helped me stop babying my teens, "Will what I do today make their lives better or worse later on?" Being mindful of the future changed my parenting, because what makes children happy at age 14 is very different from what will make them happy at age 30 and beyond.

9. Seek after God Daily.

Learn how to parent from the best Father there is—don’t attempt to parent without Him! When my kids were teens, I desperately clung to the Lord like never before and He helped me be a better parent than I could’ve ever been on my own.

Here’s how God helped me: He showed me why I babied my kids so much. It was because my parents were overly rigid. I realized that I was trying to undo my past through my parenting, which wasn’t right. That was a hard reality to face, but I’ll always be grateful to the Lord for revealing it to me.

He can help you, too. The best parenting strategy you can have is to spend time with the Lord, daily. In fact seeking after God helped me so much, I just knew it could someone else, so I wrote a book about my experience, called Seeking a Familiar Face. (I hope you’ll check it out)

As your children transition, you must transition your parenting, too. Be intentional: baby your children a little less, each year. And remember there are many wonderful things you can do for your kids, at any age. Ask thoughtful questions. Be a good listener. Pray for them, earnestly. Be their encourager. But most of all, remind your children often that the Lord loves them and that you do, too.


May Patterson has been writing and teaching Bible study classes for years. Recently she released her first book, Seeking a Familiar Face. Now, she has just released its companion Bible study workbook. May trained in small group dynamics for over ten years with Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for various magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, and is a sought-after public speaker. May is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. Read more from May by visiting: http://www.maypatterson.com.

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