Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a lovely young damsel. As all great stories go, this fair maiden met her prince charming, and they were soon wed. It wasn’t long before they were blessed with the most beautiful child in all the land.
As their angelic babe grew, the mother and father were alarmed when, now a toddler, he began to misbehave. Biting, demanding, and the occasional temper tantrum took the parents by surprise. Their blessed babe was fast becoming an adolescent. Replacing the smiles, giggles, and playful laughter was a disrespectful, self-centered creature who now stomped its way through their home—nipping at whoever dared come too close. Who was this frightening creature (and what had it done with their beautiful child?) There was only one terrifying answer to their question. An Ogre.
When we first brought our little ones home from the hospital, I could not imagine these beautiful children would one day grow up and have the ability to make me mad, frustrated, and red-hot angry. Think about it. Teenagers and toddlers have more in common than we’d care to admit. As the mother of four children—a few of them now teenagers—I understand this logic. Completely.
Toddlers want your full attention. Able to feel only their own discomfort, they become hostile and demanding when their needs aren’t immediately met. Teenagers are frighteningly similar. Though they no longer use their teeth to bite, they have learned to use words in the same way. The effect is the same. It hurts. They, too, want your full attention (though they pretend they don’t) and are known to have their own tantrums when they don’t get their way. What? You don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask any parents who have told their ogre—ahem, I mean “teenager”—that he or she can’t use the family car or go out with friends.
I consider myself an expert when it comes to the proper care and feeding of these ruffians. So, as a mother who has experienced her fair share, I’d like to give a bit of sage advice to those of you with one currently living in your home.
Don’t befriend your ogre.
Teenagers and parents cannot be best friends. This is the cardinal rule for parenting a young adult today. But unfortunately, a lot of mothers and fathers have muddied the waters here, and boundaries have become blurred. Parents, listen up. Friendship is the kryptonite for successful child rearing. Face it, Mom and Dad, you can’t be a colleague to your children until they pay their own taxes.
I’ll try and make this easy to understand. Don’t talk with your teenagers about your marriage; they should never be a sounding board for their parents’ fears, insecurities, and shortcomings. Do not include your teens in intimate adult conversations—ever. There is no reason that your daughter or son needs to know about your friend’s alcoholic mother. And no matter what anyone tells you, hanging out with your teenager and his or her friends is just plain creepy. Remember, your best friend should be your spouse, or, well, your best friend, but not your teenager.
Don’t tolerate biting.
Words hurt. Being bitten by a tiny crumb-cruncher can be a pretty painful experience, but the bite from a teen’s angry words can take much longer to heal. I want to listen to what my adolescents have to say, but I don’t tolerate biting language. I want them to speak to me the way they would speak to a favorite teacher or coach—with respect.
I don’t ascribe to the “do as I say, not as I do” theory of parenting, so I try very hard not to say things that I will regret later. It isn’t easy. Often, I will go to another part of the house to give myself a moment to cool down before I deal with a volatile situation.
Don’t let your ogre put demands on your life.
One of the most interesting things about teens is that they are self-centered people who grow more and more selfish each time you meet any one of their demands. They will try and manipulate those around them by doing things like sabotaging a family outing with a poor attitude or a sulky pout. Remember, parents, you can tread water longer than they can make it rain. Demands should not be indulged, no matter the cost.
I have a friend who would drive her teenage daughter to the mall whenever she insisted on going. Never did this girl do the dishes, clean her room, show kindness to the family, or demonstrate appreciation to her parents in any way. Why should she? She didn’t have to. Her demands were being met. Never pay a ransom for your child’s love. Ever.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
One of the biggest parental mistakes is to give an ultimatum or a potential consequence and then not carry through with it. When your teenager behaves poorly, there should be a consequence. If you threaten to take away television or car privileges, then do it! Unless you stand by your word, you’ll lose the war long before it is obvious that you’re even in a battle.
Spend time with your ogre.
When was the last time you spent a little time alone with your teenager? Go out for breakfast together. Grab your son and take him along as you run errands. Stop off at a bookstore with your daughter, and talk over your favorite books or magazines. I used to think that when my children became teenagers, I wouldn’t be needed as much. Not true. My teenagers want my attention as much as they did when they were two-year-olds.
Always keep up with their current companions. Your teens want you to ask where they are going, who they’re hanging out with, how they are doing in school. If they try to sell you a different story, don’t buy it. But let’s be honest here. Not many of us navigated those years without falling into pits on one side of the road or the other—why should we expect something more from our kids?
Listen to your ogre.
Your teenagers want to share their thoughts, dreams, and ideas with you. When was the last time that you sat down and gave them your full attention? Try not to lecture or make your point during every conversation. Remember what your grandmother used to say: “You were given two ears and one mouth, so you can listen twice as much as you speak” (James 1:19 makes a similar point).
Try and include your teens more in your decisions—no, this doesn’t mean decisions regarding what to do about your workaholic husband (see rule number one). Include them in decisions more along the lines of what color you should paint your kitchen walls, or solicit their thoughts on whether to buy a dog, or where they want to go to college. Allow them to interject their ideas and opinions, and praise them when they share from their heart. Take a moment and ask them for their thoughts on a subject. If you make it a point to listen and not to speak, I promise you will be amazed at what you hear—in a good way.
Ogres need daily showers.
Just like toddlers, teenagers make big stinky messes. Try to be understanding. This is an awkward time for them. Your teens crave your attention and will often create mayhem just to get it. Many times, they are so eager to be seen as grown-up that they make tough decisions without thinking things through. When this happens, lather your ogre with love and encouragement. These are the soap and water needed to clean things up. Remember to shower them daily with both.
So, what happened to the ogre who was wreaking havoc in that land so far away? His parents made a point to spend more time with him. They asked him more often what he thought about things and listened more intently when he answered. They showered him daily with love and encouragement. And then immediately took away his cell phone, iPod, and driving privileges until he learned to respect his parents and behave correctly.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Originally published by In Touch Magazine, January 2010