Tips on Parenting Teens from a Volcano Dweller

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Friends, I’m going to get real with you: Parenting teenagers isn’t for the weak. It’s barely for the strong. 

At least once a day, I find myself at a crossroads: Do I respond to my child with the same snarky attitude he just dished out to me, or do I role model the appropriate way to speak to human beings? Secondly, do I even care today? 

It was cute when our kids were little, the snippets of back-sass and glimmers of independence. Yeah, that was cute back then. Now? It’s not cute. I don’t laugh. I don’t pat my two teenage sons on the head and think, “Gosh, you’re going to harness that confidence one day and it will totally pay off!” 

Now I want to pull a page from the Christmas Story parenting playbook and shove a bar of soap in their mouths. Alas, I don’t.

Tips on Parenting Teens from a Volcano Dweller

I was at the library last week when I stumbled upon a book called The Eight Seasons of Parenthood: How the Stages of Parenting Constantly Reshape Our Adult Identities. Like a crazy person, I yanked the book off the shelf and directly found the section on parenting teenagers. On top of crowd-sourcing ideas from other moms who are walking this same road, I’m constantly reading and researching ways we can make this season of life a little more manageable. I’m open to all suggestions. 

To my surprise and delight, the authors titled this season of parenthood “Volcano Dwellers.” The chapter begins with a bang: “Veterans of this volatile season of parenthood, which lasts from when children are about ten to when they’re around eighteen, usually admit they should’ve seen the eruptions coming. Their children gave them cues: intermittently acting like their ‘old’ dormant sons or daughters, then turning into active volcanoes spewing forth fire and smoke.” 

Well, isn’t that the gospel truth. 

My interest was peaked, so I kept reading. Very quickly I felt understood, as if the authors were writing directly to me. I checked out the book, read the entire chapter, and took notes on points that jumped out at me. If you are heading into this season of parenting or are a fellow Volcano Dweller like I am, here are the highlights as I interpreted them: 

  1. Teens are born-again toddlers. I’ve heard this comparison before and have even used the analogy in conversation, but now I have some evidence to back it up. The rapid-fire changes in adolescents’ bodies and brains, combined with their innate desire to push towards independence, means they can act and sound exactly like their two-year-old selves, albeit with better grammar and without that afternoon nap. Approach with caution.
  2. Take the long view. It is the easiest thing in the world to get caught up in a moment of conflict, to dwell on a careless exchange of words, and to fight as if every battle must be won, but that only leads to constant heartache and strain on the entire family. Take the time to discern what subjects and boundaries are non-negotiables so you can decide what battles are better left untouched. Also, it proves helpful for Volcano Dwellers to reflect upon their own teen years as a means to draw upon a little patience and compassion. 
  3. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. This sounds like an after-school special, but it’s a universal parenting truth: In all things, look for the lesson. Our role as parents to not to raise children but to raise adults. Change the default setting from punish to discipline so teenagers can learn to set their own boundaries and make wise choices. 
  4. It’s always messy.  This one jumped out at me: “For parents who want their lives to be neat and orderly, it can be agonizing to face the reality that life on a volcano is almost always messy, unstable, and perpetually in need of a cleanup crew.” Whether literal or figurative, it is essential for parents of teens to look past the mess and see the heart, for that is the true battleground. 
  5. Protect the other areas of your life. Parenting teenagers can create a vortex through which all other important relationships and responsibilities get sucked in and vaporized. Protect that which is meaningful to you! “Volcano Dwellers need to keep a vigilant watch on the friendships, marriage, family relationships, home, and career they have worked all of these years to build to avoid their being destroyed by the natural disaster called adolescence.” 

Believe me when I say this stage isn’t all bad. No stage is. There are beautiful moments, good days, and a true hope that it will all turn out fine in the end. My favorite moments are when I get a glimpse of my boys’ true selves. But sisters, it isn’t for the weak, and it’s barely for the strong. Take heart and suit up. It’s a mess out there. 

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