Something happens every time I open up and share my past parenting mistakes. “Here’s where I messed up,” I might say during one of my parenting workshops, and you can hear a pin drop. “And here’s what I’d do different,” I’d eventually say. Every pen in the room begins writing furiously. One person’s hindsight is another’s insight.
I’ve spent the last two years studying parenting hindsight because I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t regret at least one parenting decision. As I began documenting and organizing these common denominators, it was intriguing to see which ones resonated the most with parents. My research became If I Had a Parenting Do Over. Of the changes I’d make, the one I see parents identify with more than any other is learning to avoid getting sucked into teen drama.
The desire for adulthood
I can easily spot parents of teenagers. They look tired and beaten down. Ask a parent of a teenager which is more difficult: parenting toddlers or teens, and I’m sure they’ll answer honestly. Parenting toddlers may be physically exhausting, but parenting teenagers is emotionally exhausting.
A teenager’s natural instinct is to vie for independence. This is often expressed in small ground skirmishes filled with disrespect and punctuated with the proverbial teenage refrain, “Just sayin’!” They are filled with the desire to be adults, but in many ways still have the brains of a kid.
What teens (think they) know
Teens know everything! And they’ll disagree with you at every interaction.
A parent might say, “I like your pants.”
A teen might respond, “Actually, they’re not pants, they’re leggings!”
A parent might say, “I need you to pick up that stack of dirty laundry in your room.”
A teen might respond, “Why do you care? It’s my room!”
This is where parents struggle. We all have appropriate responses to the adolescent who has just told us, “It’s my room!” After all, he’s never even considered pitching in on a single house payment.
But I warn you, don’t give in to the drama. Or, as one parent in my survey said it, “Don’t get sucked into the crazy!” But sometimes we don’t even see the crazy coming.
A parent might say, “Grab your coat and let’s go.”
The teen might respond, “I don’t need a coat. It’s not even cold outside.”
Don’t argue. Teens do whatever they can to win these little battles. They’ll do a Google search in an attempt to prove that the outside temperature is actually not cold at all — compared to Antarctica. In addition, they’ll tell you it would be unfair to animals for you to wear outer garments while they have to fend off the frigid temperature on their own.
Just let it go. Save your energy for the fights that matter. After all, in most situations, natural consequences teach far more than any of our lectures. Let the kid freeze for a day. He’ll remember his coat tomorrow without you having to say a word.
What’s more important?
I wish someone would have warned me how easy it was to get “sucked into the crazy.” I committed this vital mistake with my kids countless times.
“Did you floss your teeth?” I’d ask
Unfortunately, I’d respond, “What?! Do you realize how much we’ve spent on braces, and you’re just throwing it away? Sit down and let me share 37 reasons you need to floss regularly. . . .”
I’m not alone in this struggle. My good friend Gary recently mentioned that he’s asked his daughter at least 13 times to put away her towels after she showers. “We found like a dozen towels in the corner of her room yesterday because she never puts them away. What should we do?”
As I processed my friend’s question, I helped him put it into perspective. One of my kids seriously rebelled while growing up. So the first question I asked my friend was, “Is she sneaking out of the house?”
“Flunking algebra?” I asked.
“No. No. She’s getting over a 4.0”
“Is she smoking pot in her room?” I questioned.
He laughed and said, “No.”
I smiled. “Then tell her since she likes to collect towels, it’s time for her to do her own laundry. Tell her once, hand her the laundry detergent . . . and then just let it go.”
Five years ago, I would not have known to give that advice. But now that I’ve seen my kids go off to college and begin making their own decisions, I have grown increasingly confident I should have “just let it go” more often and given them many more opportunities to learn lessons on their own.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying, “Allow your kids to disobey and talk smack.”
If you tell your kid to do something and she ignores you, then warn her. If she keeps ignoring you, apply a natural consequence where she can learn that lesson for herself.
Ask yourself: What could be a good natural consequence that will help my teen learn? Don’t ground your kid for a week because she doesn’t hang up towels. As I mentioned earlier, have her do her own laundry.
In the same way, if your kids are rude, feel free to tell them, “Hey, you don’t need to talk smack when I tell you to put your towels away.” (Then refrain from adding their favorite adage, “Just sayin’!”)
Correct their rudeness, yes, but then let it go. They’ll respect you more for not dwelling on little issues, and you won’t be pulled into the drama.
I failed in this area countless times. But eventually I did learn how to not get entangled in the drama, chose my battles and provided my teens with an opportunity to learn from natural consequences. Then I let it go.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over 20 books, including If I Had a Parenting Do-Over and 52 Ways to Connect With Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid. He has over 20 years of youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide.