I originally wrote the following post two years ago when our son, Sawyer, was born. But this summer has once again brought some changes for our family – this time form of a little girl named Janie.
Having a baby and spending time at home adds new perspective and forces me to slow down. People expect you to take off from work, forget about house chores and just spend time with your sweet little one. So much importance is placed on enjoying and getting to know your baby – as it should be! But why does this only apply when our children are infants? Even though my kids are still little, I think there are several baby-parenting tactics that we should apply to parenting teens. They may be half-grown and independent (or so they think), but these teenage years are so critical for their development and your family!
Here are a few things that I believe we can learn from those beginning days of parenting that can benefit the relationship you share with your teenager:
Dedicated Meal Times
I am a huge believer in the power of meals and their ability to bring people together. Perfect strangers are friends at the end of a meal. Two people can begin a romantic relationship over a meal. And people are comforted, encouraged and uplifted through meal conversations. Meals are so important.
When kids are little, meals require a lot of attention. Meal times are all about them! As babies, parents have to put down everything to feed them the milk they need. When they grow into wiggly, independent toddlers, mealtime can turn into all out. When do we lose the desire to set aside dedicated time for meals? I know life is busy. I know it isn’t always possible to eat every meal at home, but teenagers need dedicated time from you!
This mealtime can look different for every family. Maybe it is ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. Maybe it is grabbing a quick bite after football practice at your favorite fast food restaurant. Or maybe it includes a homemade meal and set table (good for you!). Whatever your situation looks like, take time to silence phones, turn off televisions, get rid of distractions and share a meal with your family. Ask about school and tell them about your day in return. Find out more about friends and hobbies. Talk about future plans and silly things like their favorite TV shows. They need that time, and I bet you’ll find that you do, too! In fact, Andy and Sandra Stanley talk about this in a series on family. (You can watch it here! Start at 22:00 to begin where they talk about family dinners.)
When children are little, we have routines for almost everything. A morning routine – wake up, change diaper, put on fresh clothes. A nightly routine – bath time, change into pjs, read a book, goodnight kisses. Imagine if we had routines with our teenagers…seems silly, right? But these don’t have to include reading them a book or rocking them to sleep. It doesn’t even have to be a bedtime routine!
A few years ago, Chris Robey discussed this very topic with Dr. Mark DeYoung in the podcast episode “4 Ways the ‘Check-In’ Transforms Relationships.” I encourage you to go listen to this podcast! There are so many benefits to asking teens how they are doing and making it part of a routine. I discussed a dinner routine above, but maybe your routine is as simple as asking one question in the car on the way home from school. Or asking them to say goodnight before they go to bed and speaking truth over them at that time. Create a routine so your teenager knows what to expect from you. Ask good questions and speak words of encouragement.
When are babies are small, we expect them to act like babies. Duh, right? You wouldn’t expect my baby to walk, talk, or feed herself. If she cries, I am not surprised. When she has a blowout diaper, I don’t get upset with her. I am enjoying every moment of this baby stage – the good, bad, and the stinky.
We need to apply the same principle with teenagers. They are going to mess up, make decisions you don’t understand, get caught up in drama. I fear that adults often fall into the trap of treating teenagers like children while placing adult expectations on them. We hover and control while also getting upset when they don’t make choices we approve of. They are still trying to figure out who they are. They need a little guidance and a whole lot of grace! If you place unrealistic expectations on your teenager, you will be as frustrated as I would be if I expected Janie to change her own diapers.
Let’s go back to the days where our children were more important than clean houses and home cooked meals. I beg you to take the time to get to know your teenager! What do you think about this? Are there other baby-parenting practices that you can apply to parenting teenagers?
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Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.