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Things to Remember When You’re Parenting a Teenager

I miss you, Mom.” My teenager said this to me the other day as she was getting ready to go to dance class. “We’re missing all our time to talk in the car.”

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I thought back to the countless conversations we used to have on trips back and forth between home and school and home and dance, before she could drive herself.

I gave her a hug and told her, “I know. I miss our time, too. Let’s make up for it soon.”

As she headed off, I told myself, “Remember this. It isn’t always how it is between you two. Remember this the next time she slams the door without so much as a goodbye.”

Appreciating the good moments is just one of a list of things I’m trying to keep in mind these days. If you’re also parenting a teenager, maybe you’ll want to keep these in mind too.

7 More Reminders for Parents of Teenagers:

1. They don’t know why they’re acting this way, either.

I try to remember that questions like “Why did you do that?” and “What is up with your behavior?” may not have answers. Runaway emotions, unpredictable moods, and bewildering decisions make our teens feel likes strangers to themselves, too.

2. Their brain is a construction site.

A teenage brain is not just a younger version of a an adult brain—it’s a brain that’s still being built. If an adult brain is a fully constructed house with siding and windows and carpeting, the teen brain is more like a foundation, framework, and some studding. There are lots of gaps still to be filled in. Thoughts like “This might be a bad idea” and “I’m probably overreacting” hit those gaps and fall through the cracks. I need to remind myself that my daughter’s brain is an amazing structure, but an unfinished one.

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3. They still need us.

Our teens still need to be parented because being a teenager is hard. They need us to pull them back when they’re on the edge. They need us to believe in them. They need to know that at a time in their lives when so much is changing, the things that matter most stay consistent.

4. We are their safe space.

All day long, our big kids try to hold it together at school, among their friends, classmates, and teachers. If they seem to fall apart on us when they get home, it’s because they know they can trust us to handle it.

5. We are not alone.

Whatever struggle we might be facing as the parent of a teenager right now, someone one else is fighting it, too. At the football game, marching band show, parents’ night, or in an online group, be on the lookout for someone who might need to hear your story or want to share their own.

6. We are parenting today for the relationships we want to have tomorrow.

I’m not trying to raise a teenager. I’m trying to raise my teenager up to become, eventually, a young adult I can enjoy forever. It’s a peg big enough to hang a hope on.

7. Love is a repeated decision and action and saying “I love you” still matters.

Loving our teenagers is not a giant deposit we make one day and then ignore for the rest of their lives. That account has to be consciously, intentionally replenished, even on (especially on) days we don’t feel very loving. Even if all I get is a mumbled “love you” or silence in return, I need to keep saying, and showing, these words. Whatever else my teen might say about these years when she gets to be an adult, if she can say that she never doubted my love for her, I will know I somehow managed to remember everything that mattered most.

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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