As parents of pre-teens we all hear about the challenge of raising teenagers, but I am not sure any of us fully appreciate the difference until it is actually experienced. And even when our friends who are living it try to explain, I believe there is still a general feel of "it will be different with mine."
For this next series of blogs, I am not trying to dispel the validity of the pre-teen parents perception, or reinforce the view of the older parent who lived those teen years. I am simply going to share what my wife and I experienced and how we approached what we accepted would be different from the critical shaping years.
As such, I have to start with how we prepared for this transition. We did not get clear glimpses into this change during the so called pre-teen years (11-12), but I had years of experience with teens through church and teen mentoring programs, so fortunately I was prepared for the eventuality of parenting teenagers.
For me, the beginning of the teenage years dictated a different approach in how we interacted with our girls. This included the way we talked to them, our expectations on their responses to us and how we defined success relative to their age and maturity. We expected to be more reactive to how they perceived the situation as they would have more robustly formed opinions, whether voiced or not, whether accurate or illogical, but which would need to be addressed. Additionally, we refocused our character development to self-worth, which is more centered on the opinion about yourself and the value you place on yourself.
I also worked hard to create a real and perceived safe haven for my girls. Where they would not be stressed but could relax, find solitude when necessary, express their feelings without fear and otherwise be at peace in the home and with the core family.
The last key tenet I continued to reinforce was the importance of each family member. That a voiced opinion from any of us - me, my wife or either of the girls, was of value. None were to be "blown off" or mine be perceived as "above any other." When my wife made a point, it was recognized and respected, just like mine would be.
All of this was setting a clear and common reference that created an environment to deal with the unique challenges living with teenagers introduced. And in hindsight, is something I encourage any parent to establish and foster in their home.