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Ten things I’m learning, since becoming the parent of a teenager!

One: Clothing, hair, shoes and all things materialistic – these things REALLY matter now. When my son was little, he played in the dirt. That was free. Now he wants name brand jeans, shoes and tees. I wish I’d created a savings account long ago, to pay for this new HIM.

Two: Electronics rule. Between the iPhone, laptop, TV and video games – I’d never see my kid if I didn’t set limits. We have a rule in our home that he can play on these devices but other things must also be done: chores, homework, time spent with his siblings and parents and so on. He grumbles about it but I know he secretly wants me to set boundaries. Some day, his wife will thank me.

Three: I want more time with him. It’s funny because when your kids are little, they demand all of your time and attention: “Mommy! Mommy! I want ______. I need ______. Now! Mommy!” You finally say, “Please leave me alone for just a few minutes so I can think straight and gather my thoughts. Please!” Now it’s the other way around. I find myself saying, “You have spent enough time in your room or outside on the trampoline. Now it’s time to come hang out with your old mom. And don’t worry. I won’t tell your friends about it.”

Four: It works much better if you let your child choose the show or movie you watch (within reason). We used to snuggle every night, watching TV re-runs together. I can still talk him into this if I allow HIM to pick what we watch. That usually means I have to watch an Adam Sandler movie or a football flick. But I suck it up because it means he’s letting me inside his brain.

Five: I began reading to each of my kids, while they were inside my womb. My eldest son was an early reader and at school, was quickly considered an advanced reader. Now, I find myself feeling happy if he reads the back of a cereal box. Hopefully the ‘love of reading’ will return some day. I really don’t want to be supporting him when he’s 47. I continue to encourage him to read, even though he blows me off. I still try…

Six: Teens may play dumb when it comes to doing housework or chores. “What? Vacuum? How does it work? The mop? I can’t do that – it’s a funny shape and I’m not sure what to do! Better that you do it, mom. You know your stuff.” Offer your kid 5 bucks to help and the truth will come out. They know exactly what to do. Furthermore, you’ll be doing their future partner a favor by teaching your child to help out.

Seven: They are NEVER as bad for others are they are for you. Some days I have wondered, “Good Lord. Is he this difficult for the parents of his friends? For his teachers? How wretched and embarrassing!” Then I’ll overhear him say, “Pardon?” to a grow-up that he didn’t quite understand. I taught him to say “Pardon” when he was two. It stuck! He’s so polite and gracious around other adults. Last week, we were volunteering at a town event and one grown-up accused him of leaving the fridge door open. My son replied calmly, “I actually only used the freezer today. I didn’t open the fridge door. But I’m happy to close it now, so it stays shut.” The older gentleman replied, “Wow. Most teens would have told me to shut up and mind my own business. You are very mature!” I tried not to smile too big.

Eight: They may get their siblings all riled up in front of you, for attention. However, behind closed doors, they will play quietly and kindly, just as you taught them to do. You won’t see this up close, though. It’s not cool to show that you are nice to your annoying little siblings. Just listen in at the door, now and again, when you ask your teen to play with a brother or sister. Spy a little, and you’ll see your teachings in action. Well – you’ll hear them, anyway.

Nine: Positive Praise works. It took me a long time to figure this one out, because I was used to using negative reinforcement to stimulate behavior change (a societal thing). Thanks to Wendy (Kidlutions), Ava (Listen to Me Please) and Lynne (The Family Coach), I’ve learned so much over the years about the power of positive reinforcement. Humans want and need positive words and praise. I’m not talking about, “Well done!” generic statements but rather, very specific comments like, “I asked you to pick up your room. You did it quickly and without complaining. I really appreciate that.” This tells your child that you noticed their good work and that you appreciate it. The more praise we get like this, the more we are programmed to do the same things – to stimulate more of the positive attention we crave for a job-well-done. I suggest reading The Kazdin Method for Parenting, to learn more. It’s a fascinating read about brain research and the connection between behavior modification and positive praise. If I had known, years ago, what I know now, I would have parented my kids this way from birth. But as Wendy (Kidlutions) says, it’s never too late to change and to modify our parenting philosophies. NOW is the best time! I’ve seen so much improvement in my relationships, with my kids, since implementing this parenting strategy. It works. In fact, it works for all relationships – even grown-ups.

Ten: Here is the primary, and best thing, I am learning: Even though our kids pretend to ignore us, they hear everything we say and teach. I’ve wondered for years if my parenting is making any grand impact on his life, long-term. Are my lessons sinking in? Are my efforts wasted? Will he reject everything I hope to be modeling for him? Yesterday was my birthday and I told my son, “I want to watch TV with you, play a family board game after dinner and I want one more thing. I want a list of ten things you think I’ve taught you over the years. Just ten things.” Here is what he wrote:

  1. How to count

  2. How to be nice

  3. How to use a toilet

  4. To be generous

  5. To not bully

  6. To clean up after myself

  7. Not to say bad words

  8. How to be respectful

  9. How to work

  10. How to make toast

Granted, the toast thing may seem rather insignificant. He thought that was pretty funny, though, because we really did spend some time, when was 8, learning to use the toaster. He often has to fix his own food at his dad’s house and I wanted to teach him to make something for himself, in case he was hungry there. Over the years, I’ve taught him to cook additional meals, and the toast lesson was the very start of that journey…so it’s not really insignificant at all. Now, if I were to make my own list of the things I hope I’ve taught him over the years it might go something like this:

  1. To be nice

  2. To be generous

  3. To not bully

  4. To clean up and to be helpful

  5. To use kind words

  6. To be respectful of others

  7. To work hard

  8. To be thankful

  9. To have faith

  10. To love your enemy as yourself

The forest through the trees…

I’m going to try not to get so caught up in the little things that annoy me. I’m going to try hard to remember: the big lessons are being taught and the bigger picture is starting to show. The puzzle pieces are sliding into place now and the time and effort put in was worth it. He may do “teenage things” every day but who cares? I did annoying teenage things, too, and none of that seems to matter now. I outgrew the back talking and sarcasm. I outgrew the snippy remarks and the idea that I knew SO MUCH more than my parents.

And now that I know all of this, I think I’ll relax a little more with my other 3 kids, too. You’re welcome, kids.

You can read more from Shara by visiting Mommy Perks and her personal experience entitled 'Chandler's Eye'

Image courtesy of photostock /

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