Having lived now through four teenage children and my fifth and last being only a year away, I know how challenging it can be to be a father to teenagers. Dads watch the mysterious transformation of a good natured child into a very unique teenager with awe and often confusion.
I took an opportunity recently to visit with some teenagers I know and asked them what they wish their fathers knew about them: their challenges, their emotions, their lives. With that feedback, what follows are the five things that teenagers wish their fathers knew about teenagers.
1. “I am not a child anymore.” Almost more than anything, teens want respect for their status as maturing young adults. Continuing to be treated as a child feels demeaning. Fathers recognize, however, that teens come in varying stages of maturity, and it is important to tailor your reactions to your teen’s level. As they reach early teenhood, try to be aware of their situation and work at treating them a little more at an adult level.
2. “I act like I’m ready to be an adult, but I am scared to death of becoming one.” Whether or not your teen is ready to be treated like an adult, he or she is typically overwhelmed with that impending responsibility. Recognize that for all the bravado a teenager can muster, there is significant fear of the unknown. Dads who are able to blend a little respect with a little sensitivity for their situation can be a great resource for their teens.
3. “Friends are becoming more important to me.” Part of the transition process through which teens progress is moving from dependence on parents to independence. It is a process that we support and are excited about as fathers—after all, we want our children to become responsible, independent adults at some point. Part of that process involves a gradual separation from parents to others, including friends. This is natural, expected and appropriate. So don’t be too concerned or get hurt feelings when your teens would rather “hang out” with friends than stay home and play games with the family.
4. “I question lots of things that I didn’t used to question.” A big part of the maturation process is learning to think and feel for one’s self. Teens who were very obedient children may start questioning why they do things that you tell them to do. They may question your judgment. They may question basic beliefs and values that your family has embraced. This questioning process is healthy and normal. Try to stay available to help them through some of that questioning process if the opportunity presents itself.
5. “My hormones are doing weird things to me, and I can’t tell you why.” We have noticed with our sons that when they become teens, they become short-tempered and tend to raise their voices a lot, especially when they are under stress. They may start feeling uncomfortable around friends of the opposite sex, even when they have been friends for years. They may want posters on the wall of which you do not approve. But mostly, they just feel—they don’t necessarily understand why. Recognize that hormones may be at the root of some uncomfortable teenage behaviors. However, don’t let them use it as an excuse. Teach them that even though it is hard, hormones and “flash points” can be controlled.