Accepting the Teenager You Have

It’s time to have a heart-to-heart conversation about the important issue of accepting the teenager you have – the real one, not the one you might have dreamed of.

We’ve all been there, right? You picture yourself raising this perfect, angelic, straight-A student who’s a star athlete and never rolls their eyes.

But then reality smacks you right in the face. Your teenager is their own person with their quirks, interests, and, yes, eye rolls.

And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s essential.

But it doesn’t always feel okay. Sometimes it can be hard as a parent to allow for reality to be okay. Our hopes and desires for our kids are real. And often it can be difficult, even painful to let our dreams fade.

As hard as it might be sometimes, it is vital for our teen’s well-being, and for our own sanity, to make sure we are parenting the teenager we have – the one right in front of us – warts and all.

Adolescence is all about change; as a parent, you are there to help manage that change (and provide snacks.) The key to successful change management is acceptance of where you are starting from.

It is great that you want your teen to grow and mature into a fine young adult, but for that to happen you need to accept who they really are right now.

The Perils of Ideal Parenting

Let’s face it, we’ve all had those dreams of our child growing up to be a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, an acclaimed artist, or the world’s most brilliant mathematician. But guess what? Your teenager might not have received the memo. Instead, they may be more interested in video games, social media, and sleeping until noon.

The truth is, your teenager isn’t a character in your idealistic novel. They’re a unique individual with their own interests, quirks, personality, and odour in their bedroom.

Your teenager may not be the prodigy you imagined, but that’s absolutely fine. In fact, it’s the norm. Teens are in a phase of self-discovery, and it’s essential to remember that they are forming their identity. And we need to stress “forming”; your adult son will turn out to be a bit more sophisticated than the current 14-year-old version – so just go with it for now!

In our quest to mold our children into the successful adults we envision, we sometimes lose sight of the most important aspect of parenting: embracing who they are and helping them become the best version of themselves. Accepting the teenager you have requires you to chuck the imaginary script and work with what you’ve got, quirks and all.

Individuality Matters

Teenagers are notorious for asserting their independence and individuality. This is not a phase; it’s a vital part of growing up. As parents, we must recognize and support these emerging individual traits and tastes, no matter how much they may differ from our own.

Think about it this way: if your teenager were exactly the person you wished them to be, life would be as thrilling as watching paint dry on a cloudy day. Yawn! Their quirky interests, eccentric hobbies, and outlandish viewpoints are what keep the family drama intriguing and fuel their personal growth.

Accepting the teenager you have means the goal is not to mold them into your image but to guide and support them as they discover who they are; and that will sometimes feel a little bit messy!

Resist the Comparison Trap

It’s tempting to compare your teenager to other teens. You might think, “Why can’t my kid be as organized as Sarah’s child? Why can’t they get the same grades as David?”

This comparison game can quickly lead to frustration and disappointment. Your teenager is not a cookie-cutter version of someone else’s child, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.

Instead, focus on your teenager’s individual strengths and celebrate their achievements. Learn to see your teenager’s unique quirks and traits as individual superpowers even if those superpowers involve perfectly reciting banal pop-songs or having the ability to sleep through an earthquake.

Your teenager might not be the perfect student, but they could be an incredible artist or a budding entrepreneur. Instead of lamenting their less-than-stellar report card, focus on their strengths. What are they passionate about? What are they good at? By recognizing and nurturing these strengths, you’re not just helping them excel; you’re also helping them build self-esteem and confidence.

Celebrate their achievements, whether they’re small, medium, or “I can’t believe you did that!” size. Your teenager might surprise you with talents you never knew they had.

Your teenager’s unique talents and interests could lead to fulfilling careers or hobbies later in life – careers or hobbies you have never heard of.  Accepting the teenager you have involves celebrating and encouraging their strengths – not comparing them with the kids next door.

Set Realistic Expectations

We all want our kids to succeed, but we must be realistic about our expectations. If your teenager has never shown a penchant for science beyond microwaving a frozen burrito, it’s unlikely they’ll suddenly become a rocket scientist overnight. Pushing your teen too hard or in the wrong direction can lead to stress and resentment.

When we set unrealistic expectations for our kids it damages their confidence and self-belief. A lack of confidence in one area of life will often translate into a lack of belief and low motivation in all areas of life.

So, let’s get real and tailor your expectations to your teenager’s unique set of skills and interests. Encourage them to shine in areas that light their fire, rather than attempting to stuff them into a predetermined mold that’s more rigid than Grandma’s antique china cabinet. Remember, it’s okay for them to choose a path that doesn’t align with your dreams; it’s their life, after all.

Accepting the teenager you have means having and setting expectations your teenager (the one you have right now in front of you) can realistically meet.

The Importance of Boundaries

While we’re all for embracing the unique qualities of your teenager, it’s equally important to set boundaries. Teenagers need structure and guidelines to navigate the complex world they’re entering. Your teenager may not always show it, but they actually crave these boundaries.

Establish clear rules and consequences and be consistent with your enforcement. The key is to strike a balance between allowing them to explore their independence and providing the safety net of your guidance. It’s like releasing them into the wilderness, but you’ve discreetly hidden a trail of breadcrumbs just in case they decide to go full Hansel and Gretel.

A common trap parents fall into when setting boundaries is imagining an overly idealised version of their teenager: the one that is always responsible and would never make bad or dangerous decisions. When this happens, parents tend to not set protective boundaries or they turn a blind eye to their teen’s behaviour and lack of compliance. In both cases, the teenager ultimately suffers because parents aren’t setting them up well for adulthood.

Boundaries should be negotiated with your teenager, based on their actual demonstrated capacity to be trustworthy and responsible; not based on how you wish they behaved.

Accepting the teenager you have requires you to be honest with yourself about your teen’s trustworthiness, maturity level, and behaviour – even if the truth makes you question if anything you say is getting through.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Mistakes are a natural part of growing up. The teenage years are like a crash course in trial and error, with a heavy emphasis on the “error” part. While we’d love to protect them from life’s hardships, it’s essential to allow them to experience and learn from their mistakes.

So, instead of shielding them from the inevitable chaos of life, let them make those minor blunders now. That way, they’ll learn just what eventually happens when the fuel gauge is on “Empty” for 4 days, or that you shouldn’t trust the “one-size-fits-all” label. It’s better to have them mess up a few times under your watchful eye than to face epic challenges later when they’re living on their own, and you’re on speed dial as their emergency life coach.

And remember, it’s all about support, not judgment. When they accidentally dye the bathroom towels pink, don’t scold them like they’ve committed a capital offense. Instead, hand them some bleach, laugh it off, and say, “Well, I guess it’s a good thing we needed new towels anyway!” This is all part of helping them develop resilience and awareness.

Communicate, But Listen More

News flash – your teenager probably thinks they know everything there is to know about life. And sometimes it might feel like they’re auditioning for the lead role in “The World’s Most Stubborn Individual.” But here’s the secret: you have to connect with them. It’s like a Jedi mind trick – just keep repeating it in your head, “I will communicate with my teen.”

But communication is not just about you delivering your stirring monologues about homework, chores, and curfew. Communication is a two-way street, like a game of catch, except instead of a ball, it’s understanding and trust being tossed back and forth. You should talk to your teen, yes, but you should also listen. And here’s the kicker – you should listen even more.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But the real treasure lies in what they have to say. Sometimes it’s about their friend’s veganism or the latest TikTok obsession, and you might be tempted to roll your eyes and mutter something about “back in your day.” But resist that urge! You’d be amazed at the world of insights and opinions your teenager holds, and occasionally, they might just drop a wisdom bomb on you that you weren’t prepared for.

If you have preconceived ideas or dreams of your teenager coming to you for heart-felt deep and meaningful conversations every day, or passionately debating the very serious events of the world, you run the risk of missing out on connecting with your offspring.

Your teenager is going through a whirlwind of emotions, peer pressures, and changes in their life. They need a sounding board about their life, someone to confide in. And that someone should be you– even if what they are sharing might seem as important as crumbs in the toaster tray. As you get to hear from them, you will discover more about the wonderfully unique person your teenager is.

So, next time your teen rambles on about their favourite TV show or an obscure video game you don’t understand, don’t dismiss it. Instead, pretend it’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever heard. When you accept the teenager you have by communicating well, you might find a new level of understanding and connect with your them in ways you never thought possible.

Unconditional Love

It might sound cliché, but it is the absolute essential of parenting the teenager you have; loving them unconditionally.

No matter how different your teenager may be from the one you initially imagined, your love for them should remain unwavering. Show them that they are accepted, valued, and cherished for who they genuinely are (even with that haircut.)

In a world full of peer pressure, social media, and academic stress, they should feel that they can always return to your support, love, and understanding.

Don’t judge or criticize their choices if you disagree with them and think their taste in music is appalling. Instead, offer input and guidance in a way that respects their autonomy. And, most importantly, reassure them that you love them unconditionally. They need to know that your love is unwavering, no matter what.

Accepting The Teenager You Have

Sometimes the teenager you have seems like a far cry from the one you wished for. But here’s the truth: embracing the teenager you have is not just important; it’s a necessity. Their individuality, quirks, and unique qualities are what make them who they are.

Your role as a parent is not to control, but to guide, support, and love unconditionally. By fostering open communication, allowing them to learn from mistakes, embracing their individuality, and having realistic expectations, you’ll be helping them on their journey to becoming confident, self-sufficient adults.

So, let go of the perfect image you once had and learn to accept the beautifully imperfect, gloriously messy, eye-rolling, mumbling teenager you have. They may just surprise you with their resilience, potential, and just occasionally, their heartwarming love for you.

Images by Freepik

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