Self-esteem is an important ingredient for a successful and happy child. But in the life of an early teenager, self-esteem issues are as tender as my bare feet walking on gravel. I certainly don’t own the book on raising these creatures, but this I know: four parenting principles rank supreme when parenting a testy sixth, seventh, or eighth grader.
#1 – Set Limits
In order to encourage your teen, identify what constitutes good and bad behavior. Establish the house rules by being specific and keeping them short and to the point. Make sure the teen understands your expectations. Then put the family rules in writing, and FYI – they often accidentally “on purpose” forget with selective memory, so documenting it on paper leaves no room for arguing. And be flexible. As your teen demonstrates more and more positive behavior, give them more freedom. If they show poor judgment, enforce more restrictions. You are not their pal but their parent.
#2 – Enforce Consequences
This can be tough, and it might get worse before it gets better. Your teen needs to suffer when they act disrespectfully. Take away what’s most meaningful and let the pain hurt, really hurt! Being too lenient shows you’re not serious; yet being too harsh causes resentment. Just be consistent. Don’t impose penalties you’re not prepared to carry out, and don’t be afraid for them to not like you. Sara, my precious daughter, did NOT approve of me in eight grade. Oh, well. Too bad…..yet today I’m her greatest hero!
#3 – Be wise. (In other words, yes, be “smarter than a fifth grader.”)
For the most part, early teens don’t like to feel like they’re being lectured. It takes wisdom from God in learning how to impart life lessons without them totally tuning you out. So sandwich godly principles between fun comments. For example, last week Rich and I took our thirteen year old granddaughter out for a special evening to a fancy restaurant for her big birthday. She asked with an inquisitive eye, “Is this going to be one of ‘those’ dinners where you talk about making good choices?” I affirmed, “Oh no, for goodness sake!” Then I managed to “sneak in a few” between light-hearted topics. (And, of course, that’s exactly what the evening was all about!)
#4 – Pray – Pray – Pray and Set a Positive Example
It’s easy to get discouraged when it seems like your teenager is not “getting it.” But God “gets it,” and He cares about their well-being more than you. If you talk to Jesus about your difficulties and ask for His guidance, wisdom, and courage, He will give it to you. It’s His job to lead the way, and it’s your job to set a good example by your patience, your ability to remain under the Spirit’s control, your tone of voice, your constitution to act with both firmness and gentleness, and your invitation to bring God into every parenting moment. The Holy Spirit is in you, with you, and ready to “parent” you as you “parent” them.
So trust in Jesus with every ounce of your being and cling to this promise. It remains every mother’s favorite. Do not lose heart in doing good, for in due time you shall reap if you do not grow weary. — Galatians 6:9
I love those two words, “shall reap.”