“Raising kids through the adolescent years is like guiding your family in a raft through whitewater rapids,” says Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Running the Rapids: Guiding Teenagers through the Turbulent Waters of Adolescence.
Like going down the river trying to navigate rapids, rocks and other hidden dangers, there is definite risk in experiencing the adolescent years. In fact, it can be potentially destructive for parents, teens and the entire family. Leman believes that how you choose to travel the river makes all the difference for you and your teen. Some people believe that the teen years are the most difficult, but Leman would argue they are the best years.
“The teenage years are a wild ride, with good reason,” Leman says. “I encourage parents to talk with their kids before they become teenagers about some of the things that will happen or that they are likely to experience – including the idea that the day is coming when you are going to think your parents are really strange and don’t know anything.”
According to Leman, the goal during adolescence is not for parents to be their teen’s best friend. It is to be a smart parent. There are three elements parents need to pay attention to as they guide their teen through adolescence:
- Major on the majors. Not everything is worthy of concern and debate. During his teen years, Leman’s son came to the dinner table and announced he was getting an earring. His mother was frantic waiting for Leman to handle this situation. Leman did not say a word. Three days later, Leman showed up at the dinner table with an earring. Several minutes passed by before his son noticed. Kevin squinted and looked at his father with disgust and said, “You look ridiculous.” To which Leman responded, “Really? Your mother likes it.” End of discussion.
- Learn to say positive things to your kids. Children are a gift. Make an effort to affirm your teen when he/she makes good choices.
- Find something your adolescent can do well. Emphasize this strength and help your teen feel accepted and special.
- “My friend Stephen Covey tells people to start with the end in mind,” Leman says. “That is exactly what I encourage parents to do. What kind of young adult do you want to see emerge at the end of adolescence? The decisions you make and the decisions your teen makes during the adolescent years will make all the difference in the outcome. I know many parents who choose to put their teen in the raft without a guide, but I believe if you are interested in the best outcome for your teenager, you will put him/her in the raft with you as their guide.”
As you navigate the whitewaters of adolescence, here are some additional thoughts on how to be a great raft guide for your teen:
- Give your teenager freedom, but hold him/her accountable.
- Sometimes parents are too quick to bail their teen out of trouble.
- Are you raising your teen in a home or a hotel?
- Mutual respect is the cornerstone of all relationships.
- Everybody’s thoughts and feelings have value.
- Watch your tone of voice. Rude behavior is not acceptable from anyone.
- Use nonthreatening communication.
- Laugh at everything you can and find reasons to have fun.
“In spite of what you might hear from the culture at large, parents DO make a difference in the lives of their children. They watch every move you make and how you live your life. Recently, I received a note from my 32-year-old daughter that said, ‘Dad, thanks for teaching me that people are more important than things and living that out in your life. Love, Holly.’
“Even if you are uncertain about your parenting skills, don’t be afraid to get in the raft and guide your teen through the rapids,” Leman says. “I have learned more from what I did wrong than all the things I did right.”