How to Encourage Your TeenagerBy Penny Edmonds
From AT&T Stadium to little league ball fields, we have no problem yelling encouragement for our teams. Though our teenagers may not ask for encouragement or even acknowledge that they need it, they need that same level of impassioned support — but perhaps not always screamed from the sidelines. We love our teens and desire to encourage them, but sometimes we are uncertain of where to start and what to do. Here are just a few practical ways that we can daily encourage our teenagers.
1. Take special interest in their interests. Whether it’s going to a ballgame, attending a piano recital, or wading through a sea of science and art fair projects, you can show your teen in simple ways that you are sincerely interested in what fascinates and interests him.
Jim Schettler, vice president of student affairs at a west coast college, has worked with teenagers for more than 30 years, from camps and conferences to private counseling and academic classes. He recommends that parents make an effort to go to their teen’s activities, to be an active — but not overbearing — presence in their child’s life outside the home. “Our teenagers know we are there, and they do want us there; however, they do not want us to be the loudest or the strangest person at the event!” he says.
But being there is the important thing. “The time that we invest in their interests communicates that they are valued by us,” Schettler explains.
“Time is the currency that pays for the right to encourage and even correct a teenager,” adds Greg Hutchinson, a local youth pastor of 17 years. Your investment in your teen’s interests opens a variety of doors because your teen now knows that you sincerely care.
2. Provide a safe place for them to communicate and be themselves. The teenage years are riddled with disappointments and, at times, failures. Whether your teen feels awkward, is slow to make friends, has problems in school, or is disappointed that he didn’t make the football team, he will need a safe place that he can always count on to openly express his fears, anxieties, hurts and disappointments without judgment.
“Let them experience failure but never quitting,” maintains Schettler. “Always help them back up with encouraging words: ‘I know you did your best, and I am proud of you.’ ‘I am here to support you as you try again.’ ‘Let’s see what we can learn from this disappointment so that you can grow from this experience.’”
Most teenagers respond positively to sincere encouragement and are happy when someone takes interest in them. If well-intentioned encouragement is met with resistance, then it may be best to pull back and wait until your teen is ready to hear what is being said.
When your teen is being difficult, it can be tough to remain calm and encouraging. But Hutchinson affirms that parents need to “have compassion on them even when they stress us out.” Your child’s problems — while appearing small in your eyes — are very large in his. One of the most important safe-place gifts that parents can give their teen, Hutchinson emphasizes, is to “listen, listen, listen.”
3. Be faithful. Though you won’t be perfect, your child should know that you will not falter in standing beside him and supporting him.
“Be the person who is present for [your] teenager during difficult and confusing times, rallying others to surround [your] teenager with encouragement,” Hutchinson says. Asking close friends and family to join us in encouraging our teen only broadens and strengthens his support system, letting him know he is not alone.
Schettler adds that parents should consistently “come alongside their teenagers,” whether the teen needs affirmation or correction.
Flower Mound mom Delia McCaffrey agrees. “Consistently being there to communicate with them … leads to a more stable relationship,” she says, speaking from experience with her own teenage daughter.
Though our teens will experience changes in friendships, extracurricular activities and emotions, having constancy in their lives will both encourage them and provide a sense of greatly needed security.
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