Understanding Your Teenager
Understanding Your Teen
It seems to come out of nowhere, at least to the first-time parent of an adolescent. Yesterday your kid was just a kid. But when change and transition to adolescence strikes quickly, it can come as quite a shock
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Hi, I’m Jim Burns and I’m the author of Understanding Your Teenager. Now I have a PhD in adolescence. I actually raised three daughters who have made it through adolescence and I’m still trying to figure that out myself. So I’m so excited that you’re a part of this video curriculum. The neat thing about it is that, well, the truth is people learn more when they talk than when I talk. So what I’m excited about is I can get you going, we’ll do some video, we’re doing it in front of a live audience and then you’ll have the time to talk and interact. I just really want to encourage you to be as authentic, be people of integrity. No parent has it easy and when you have teens, there’s no perfect parent and no perfect teen. So make sure that you get some time to really have some good interactions. So that’s what we’re excited about.
Now in this first session, we’re talking about why kids act the way they do. And hopefully you’ve read some of the chapters. If you haven’t, that’s okay too because there’ll be good interaction. But really the fact is, is that the teen years have changed. We’ve got what? We were 11, we were 13, we were 14, we were 16, 17 but we were never their age. They experienced so much, so young. So one of the things we have to do as parents is get our arms around this thing called well, adolescence. Now I’m more of a dog guy than a cat guy. I like cats, so if you’d like cats, you’re okay. But I really like dogs. We have a golden retriever. And what I love about our golden retriever is, he could be having a bad day or I could be having a bad day and the golden retriever comes up and just hangs out with me.
That’s what happened with our kids when they were young and then they became teenagers and our kids kind of became cats. What I mean by that is they got a little moody and we had a Milo cat one day. His name was Milo and Milo would kind of come up on my lap sometimes and other times he would just leave for a day or two and he was kind of moody and then he’d come back and pay attention. And that’s kind of what the teen years are like. But here’s the good news. They will morph back into becoming dogs if we do this thing right. So anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing the conversations that you have as you deal with this whole first session and let us know how that goes.
Well, hi there. My name is Jim Burns and I am thrilled you’re here with us and I’m also thrilled that we’re getting to talk to a lot of people who are going to be in small groups, maybe just a husband and wife who are talking, maybe a group of single parents who are talking about understanding your teen. It’s kind of an oxymoron, it’s not exactly easy to understand your teen. It’s been my life since I was a teen. It’s really the only thing I ever wanted to do was spend time helping kids. And although it has morphed and I spend more time talking to parents today, the truth is that I want to help teens succeed. And as parents for Kathy and I, my wife and I, we were stunned because our kids were really easy when they were children and all of a sudden at about age 12 for us they started changing and we went, who are these people?
And the illustration I kind of give is that our kids were kind of like cats, there are cat people and there are dog people. And I’ll just be honest, I’m a dog people and I know you may be a cat person and I still like you, but our kids were like cats when they became teenagers because like dogs, they’d come up and they’re always around us. And then there was this more or less day, week, month where they got moody. They would just take off, at times then they would come in as a cat would do is sit on your lap and let you pay attention to them. And not that I’m talking about your teens always sitting on your lap. But again, the fact is, that we have all girls, they would show some affection all this and then they wouldn’t show affection for a long time.
So what happened was, because I have spent my life trying to help kids make right and wise decisions, I decided that one day I would write a book on understanding your teen, but I would wait until my kids were young adults because it was humbling for us. I remember a time with my daughter Rebecca, she was 17 and she’s a great person in fact, she’s now a marriage and family therapist. But she said to me in the car, she said, “Dad, all of my friends think you are the coolest dad.” And my head just started to swell. I was like, “Oh my gosh, she hasn’t given me a compliment in like nine years.” And so I said, “Really?” And she said, “Yeah, Ashley thinks this and Lindsey thinks this.” And she just goes on and on.
But my head is getting all big. I make the big mistake. I said, “Well, do you think I’m cool?” And she goes, “No, you won’t let me do this. You won’t let me do this.” And she goes into all of our boundary stuff and it reminded me that I’m working with teens as a parent is not an easy job and we can’t always figure them out. And what’s crazy for me is with three kids, each of my kids are very, very different. And so even they went through the teenage years in a very different way.
So I’m excited to give you some principles on understanding your teen. Every answer is not in this wonderful book, but what I find is that when people talk amongst themselves, so you know, I’m going to speak for a little bit in each session, but then when they talk amongst themselves and they find out that other people have the same issues or they dig into the issues, that’s when the best learning takes place. So I’m so excited to be with you. So is anybody have a question?
So I’m sure we can have it worse. But my teenage daughter is just been acting so different. I don’t understand why she’s acting the way she acts. And I just wanted to know if that’s normal?
Well, it is normal. Adolescence is fascinating. So you have childhood and you have adulthood. And until about 1920 you had childhood and adulthood. And so like my grandmother graduated from high school and got married and that’s what most people did. And it was actually 1942 when the word adolescence was first written. It was written in a magazine called Scientific American. Okay. And so really this is kind of a new phenomenon because it’s a placeholder between childhood and adulthood. And so when we really understand that as a parent, we have to understand that they act different.
But here is the big word, there’s a huge word here and it’s the word change. And so your daughter or any of your sons or daughters who are adolescents, they’re going through change. And the change isn’t necessarily always easy because the fact is, is that they don’t know what to do with this change. Okay. And so just basically over generalization here, but they’re going through physical change. There’s hair growing where there wasn’t hair and they’re not sure what to do with that. And actually even on the inside, physically there are things going on even before you see that. So physical is a big deal. Physical change.
In fact, one of the phrases that has to do, not just with what’s going on physiologically, but we oftentimes say that their desire to look the same as other kids. So even on the physical look, they want to look like their friends now, not how you dress them, when your daughter was a child or whatever. So there’s physical changes taking place. There’s also social change. When they were children, the social world was monitored by you. But as they become teenagers, they’re now being influenced by other friends. And so we talk a lot about peer pressure. In fact, it’s one of the major issues. One of the top two issues that kids say is what they struggle with is peer pressure. And parents would probably say the same thing. So all of a sudden friends come into the picture, especially strong in adolescents, they weren’t as strong when they were younger. And again, they were monitored by you. But there’s a major social change.
So one of the reasons why I’m so excited about things like youth ministry, student ministry, even children’s ministry for the kind of pre-teens, is that they begin to develop relationships with other kids who aren’t perfect at church. But yet, the social environment becomes so much more important by the time kids are in ninth grade. Many times they’ll say that their friends have as much influence as their parents, not in the long haul, but just in that one sort of section of adolescence. And so social change.
Oh man, emotional change. Their emotions are going crazy and here’s the deal is adolescence, and it might even be with your daughters, as with all of my girls. They begin to have adult emotions but they don’t know what to do with the adult emotions. So you see highs and lows and you see sadness and moodiness and anxiety and you see great passion and all these kinds of things. But, they don’t really know how to handle that. Some make emotional decisions that exceed their maturity level. So you get into, and we’ll talk about it later, but you get into the relational side with the opposite sex or whatever. And they’re making decisions because of their emotions. And so change. So again, change is a huge thing.
There’s a couple of other changes that we don’t talk probably enough about. And with that, its intellectual change because they really are going through intellectual change. And parents need to know this and you might even, when we get into the small group, you might even be able to talk about some of this, but the intellectual change means that they’re now asking questions and they’re thinking more like an adult. And so they’re asking questions that actually go against you. So with intellectual, they may now be not agreeing with you, and it could be politically, it could be morals and values that can still be good kids. But wow, they’re pushing the envelope because they’re dealing with the change in the intellect.
There’s two phrases that they’re thinking about. Who am I? Now again, most of your teenagers aren’t going, who am I and pondering that? But it’s actually just a part of their life. Who am I? Identity becomes a big issue. And then also why does it matter? So if you have a teenager and a lot of teenagers, not every teenager, but if you have a teenager who is kind of contrary or contrarian they may be saying, well, why does that matter? They start asking more questions like, why? And they’re pushing you a little bit. Well that’s because they’re going through intellectual change. By the way, change is not all bad because they’ve got to get from childhood to adulthood. And the way they get from childhood to adulthood is work through these changes and it’s not easy for them or you and the last one spiritual change.
They owned your faith when they were young. And so whether you, and I wasn’t raised in the church, so I own my parents more or less lack of faith, but they own your faith and when they get older they have to disown your faith to own their own faith. And that’s really important. We’ll talk more about that later. But that’s a change that some parents are just shocked with because there’s the kid who loves God today and tomorrow doesn’t believe in God. And this change factor is not all bad because in doing that they’re shedding some of their parents’ information or even the church information and beginning to take it on themselves. And that’s a great part of faith formation. So again, the whole idea of change is just a huge thing. So yeah, it’s normal.
I have a question about my two teens. I have a boy and a girl and they’re not ultra rebellious. But it seems like we have a lot of more conflicts than we used to have. So how do you deal with that?
Right. Well, a lot of teens push the envelope and some go to the great extreme and some not so much, but remember this, that teens are going through what we call the experimental phase and the interesting side to experimental phases is we always go right to drug, sex, rock and roll, media stuff, all that. And they do experiment with that and they are going to, most kids will, that’s where they experiment with some of that. But the experimental phase is also in terms of how they relate to you as a parent. And so there’s a bit of a rebellion there because they’re moving from dependence to independence. So one of the important things every parent has to get this, that one of the very important things that we have to understand is that you’re not raising obedient children. If your goal is to raise obedient children, your goal is way too low. It’s raise responsible adult and I’m going to add who love God.
So the way we parent has to be a way of helping them become responsible adults. So in doing that, yeah, they’re going to rebel a bit and we’re going to have to figure out a new way to communicate with them. For example, when kids are two to 10 you pretty much control their life. I mean you tell them what to wear, you pretty much tell them what to eat. You’re not going to let them go to the mall by themselves and things like that. But as they become teenagers, you move from control to coaching. And so now, coaches are in charge, coaches take timeouts, coaches lead the way, but at the same time, when they’re rebelling, you also have to let them make some of their own decisions and sometimes let them fail. So in terms of the rebellion, we can look at it as a bad thing. We can also look at it as a way of helping them become that adult. So yeah, there’s going to be some negative consequences and they’re going to have to live with those negative consequences.
I love this quote. It’s an African proverb and it says this, he who is carried on another man’s back does not appreciate how far the town is. And so really when our kids are in some kind of rebellion, sometimes they have to live out that rebellion and the consequence of that rebellion we do as adults. So what are we doing? We’re trying to help them become a responsible adult. So, that’s what we have to do. I’m big on clearly expressed expectations with kids who are in rebellion. Here’s what we expect from you, because parents have to lead. A lot of times parents go, “Well, I want to be my kids’ good friend.” You’re not their friend. They think you’re too old. You don’t think you’re old, you don’t look old. But they think you’re old.
So again, what we want to do is we want to have clearly expressed expectations. Parents usually think they give clearly expressed expectations, but when I talk to kids, they sometimes feel like they don’t know. So there’s some kind of a communication gap here, clearly express their expectations and then allow them to have the consequences of fall where they may. Three good phrases that’ll help you with this. One is I feel your pain and you know what? If I was your age, I might feel the same way. So what you’re doing is you’re actually showing empathy. You didn’t say, I’m going to go with what you’re saying, but in a rebellion thing, if I was your age, I might have felt the same way. I always oftentimes say to parents, get into the age when you were 15 what was it like? Or whatever. But if I was your age, I’d feel the same way.
Then here’s the phrase, next one. Nevertheless, okay, I love that phrase because you’re showing authority, but nevertheless, here’s how we’re going to do it. Because you are the leader in the house, leaders lead. And when we think about like the world of business or the world of a church or whatever, whoever is leading, they have authority, but they don’t yell, scream and shout that’s not effective. The most effective way is to basically say, something like, nevertheless, here’s how it’s going to be. When you’re in your own home, you can do whatever you want, but in our home, this is how we do it. Okay. And so you’re taking the lead, you’re not again doing it by yelling, screaming, shouting, whatever. And yet we’re all going to at times have one of those kinds of moments I’m sure, a parents melt down.
And the last one is just, life’s not fair. So, my kids would say something and I just have to go, “Hey, I’m so sorry because life’s not fair.” And they didn’t like that answer. But life isn’t fair. And as adults, we all know that, but they don’t get that because it’s kind of been fair to them for a long time. But in the adolescence time, that’s when they have to learn that. You don’t want them learning that just in adulthood you want them learning that because what’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that you’re raising responsible adults, not just obedient kids. So I think that helps with rebellion, but they’re still going to at times rebel because they’re in that experimental phase.