I am coming up on a time in my life that was just a flicker in the back of my mind over the last few years.  And now, it’s here.  I have a teenager going to high school next month! Holy cow, that happened fast!  This has been a time of mixed emotions for this mama.  On one hand, I’m super excited for him to explore new opportunities, meet new friends, and hopefully, lay the foundation for a successful future.  I am also, quite honestly, TERRIFIED. So, I went searching for some ways to help him navigate. I tried to think a little outside the box, because what I was doing, wasn’t exactly netting desired results. There was way too much yelling and unhappiness involved. I needed to change tactics.  I hope these tools will help you to empower your teen as well!

Let’s start with HOW the teenage brain works. Remember, this is just the basic teenager.  It doesn’t take into consideration lifestyle factors, experience or genetics.  Those factors can drastically change how your teenager develops, thinks, feels, etc, but this is their starting point.

  1. We all have made bad decisions in our early life.  New research shows that we can blame that on our adolescent brain development. Teenage brains have been studied more in the last 20 years than ever before through functional MRI (Can you tell I’m not just a gym owner, I’m also a Neuroscience Nurse? Brains are kind of my jam.).  The posterior, or back portion of a teenage brain that is capable of learning, reading, calculating, seeing, hearing and more, is developed pretty early in life.  The anterior, or front of their brain, used for emotional and impulse control, reasoning, and critical thinking, is not yet developed. Once thought to develop reasoning, planning and judgement- aka- their conscience, around age 17, it’s now been proven to develop between ages 25-30 years old!
  2. Remember thinking, that would never happen to me? I certainly do. Teenagers actually have the ability to process very complex information, but not the ability to see how it would affect their life long term.   For example, a 15 year old can understand how vaping works, what kind of technology goes into it, what the chemicals are, and that it can cause lung disease, but not foresee themselves actually developing lung disease.  They are invincible, you know!


Well, that’s just lovely.  So, how are we as parents supposed to help these kids wade these muddy waters?

  1. I had to learn to empathize.
    I have a confession to make.  I really struggled with understanding why my child just would not listen to me.  “I’m the mom, that’s why!”, has been something I have said a few too many times. I finally learned that MY NUMBER ONE most effective parenting tactic is .  EMPATHY.  I had to stop yelling and start listening to what my child was saying.  DUH!!! At that realization, I remembered how it felt to be 14. Take a trip down memory lane yourself and try to remember.  It was fun, but, dang, it was really hard.  It was confusing, too!  I was practically an adult, so why was my mama trying to tell me what to do?  She definitely had no idea what it was like to be a teenager now!
    So, I try to approach my decision making and our disagreements from that place. I also make sure to tell him, “Hey, I have been there, I hear you, and I love you”. He still thinks he knows better than I do, but one day, (oh, that one sweet day, we all know will come!) he will look at me and say, “Mom, I realize, you really were always right.”  I know I have said it to my Mama.  Of course that doesn’t mean he isn’t off the hook or gets to do whatever he wants, but it really helps to defuse the situation for me, as his parent and the experienced (supposed to be rational) adult, so we can come to understanding much sooner.  Their world is so much stranger and BIGGER than ours was, so we need to learn about how they are taking in all of that, and how it is affecting their thought process. I also think doing things this way has lowered my blood pressure by several points!
  2. I had to make sure my kids have the right tools for the job.
    I read Raising Human Beings, and The Explosive Child when my children were small, both by Dr. Ross Greene. You can visit his website here.
    It wasn’t until last year that I discovered he developed a system that debunks the saying, “Kids will do better when they want to.”. His program and research flipped that negative theory on it’s head and states “Kids will do better when they CAN.”  The fact of the matter is, we all want to do things well.  If someone came up to me today and said, “Hey, Liston, you have to build this house.”  I would probably respond with frustration, irritation, anger, disbelief, etc., because I have no clue where to start.  Our kids are the same.  They react when overwhelmed with a big problem/project/chore, because they aren’t yet equipped for the job. When my kids aren’t “doing better”, I look at myself and ask,”Have I given them the resources to “do better” in this situation?”  “Do they actually have the skill, the resources, and the ability to do what I am asking them to do?”, and most of the time, for my little ones, they need some type of instructions, information, etc, to complete the task, and my big kids, they need more information, motivation, support, etc., to make a better decision.  Sometimes, it just needs to be broken into bite-sized, doable steps.
  3. I had to find out what motivates my kids.
    I grew up in the South. You listened to your mama. End of story. That type of parenting works well for kids that are externally motivated, but those kids that crave freedom and autonomy, it backfires. You can imagine my surprise when I found a great parenting resource in a self-help/business management book by Gretchen Rubin, titledThe 4 Tendencies.  The 4 Tendencies are personality types based on how the individual is motivated to take action. (Find out which one you are here!)  People are generally motivated by internal or external expectations, and based on what they respond to are either Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, or Rebels.  As for myself, I am a Rebel. I am neither motivated by internal or external expectations, but want the freedom to do what I need to do, on my own timeline. That made lots of things rather interesting for the last 30 something years!  The joke is on me here,though, because my oldest son is also a Rebel! The biggest thing that will motivate a rebel is the end result. If I told my son to get 10 hours of sleep before his test the next day, he wouldn’t be motivated to do it.  If he told himself, I will get 10 hours of sleep tonight, he still wouldn’t be motivated to do it. BUT, if I said, Hey, you will be more likely to get an A on that test if you slept 10 hours tonight, but that’s on you, he will be more motivated to get to bed by 9.  The key is giving him the freedom to make the choice.
  4. I had to remember to let them make their own choices.
    I go back to the fact that it’s ultimately HIS CHOICE.  I can only do so much to help him do the right thing. It isn’t up to me to make those choices for him, nor is it my fault if he makes bad decisions.  I personally, cannot take blame for the things that he may or may not choose to do. One of the most powerful things we can give to our kids is the freedom to make choices, and then to accept the consequences. After all, the most meaningful lessons we learn are usually through failure, not success.  My job is to give him the tools to make decisions for himself, and to be there to love him through the hard stuff.If you made it this far, THANK YOU, it means so much to me that you read it all!  I really hope that you took away at least one tool to help your teenager.  If you have any other great tips, I’d love to hear from you!
    Liston Stanley
    Owner, Obsession Athletics